1. Website launch

    On Monday, July 1st, the ATHENA website will be officially launched. This memorable event will be celebrated with an introduction into the ATHENA website and platform. For more information please contact Deborah van den Herik via e-mail, You are very welcome to attend the launch.
    When: Monday 1 July 2019, 1:00 pm to 5:30 pm (including drinks)
    Where: Academy Building, Domplein 29, 3512 JE, Utrecht

    Admission: Free, but registration required via

  2. Extension Clariah

    ATHENA received an extension of a year from CLARIAH. In ATHENA, three types of digital biodiversity heritage sources (textual sources, structured data and audio-visual material) are combined, making the project suitable as a "showcase" of the CLARIAH project. With the initial CLARIAH investment, a beta version of Athena has been developed. The follow-up to ATHENA aims to: (1) further integrate with the CLARIAH infrastructure, (2) adding different CLARIAH tools and data sets and (3) broaden the project for the future.

  3. Beta version accessible

    The beta version of the ATHENA portal is now accessible. The portal is still work in progress as more data sets and functionalities will be added and some bugs need to be fixed. The beta version, however, already provides a nice insight in the future of the ATHENA portal.


    SERPENS was accepted by CLARIAH as a research pilot project. Newspaper archives are a rich source of information, but require careful querying and filtering to collect the relevant information. In the SERPENS project, the KB newspaper collection will be semantically enriched to create a knowledge base to support historical ecological work. The project is a collaboration between the KNAW Humanities Cluster (HuC), the Dutch Language Institute (INT) and the ATHENA project. For more information please visit:
  5. Symposium

    On Friday, April 10th, ATHENA is organizing a symposium called "An interdisciplinary approach to research on historical man-nature relationships”. The symposium will focus on the possibilities and need for an interdisciplinary approach to research on the historical relationship between man and nature. Speakers for the day are Prof. Dr. Jan Luiten van Zanden, Prof. Dr. Joop Schaminee, Drs. Jan de Rijk, Dr. Inge van der Jagt and Dr. Rob Lenders. Also, the ATHENA project will be presented as part of the symposium.

    Register by sending an email to For questions, please contact Thomas van Goethem: +31 (0) 24-365 20 60.

  6. Seed money

    In 2014 (April) ATHENA received a seed money grand from CLARIAH to further develop the project. The grand made it possible to make an inventory of available data sources and suitable datasets, explore technical solutions and feasibility and develop the project-website. The results were presented on March 15th at the CLARIAH kick-off meeting.

Introducing ATHENA

Access Tool for data on Historical ecology and ENvironmental Archeology

ATHENA envisions the creation of a historical database on flora and fauna species in cultural and natural contexts for the Netherlands. The ATHENA portal will hold information on historical contexts of human – nature relationships for a broad variety of plant and animal species and the landscapes and ecosystems they live(d) in. ATHENA does so by linking existing databases, but also by building and incorporating new ones.

Mission Statement

Studying the processes in which people transformed their surroundings and the ways in which the natural world has influenced the course of human history is important to understand the current state of human-nature relationships. Such relationships can best be studied on the basis of comprehensive temporal (and geographical) explicit datasets. Currently, however, data and datasets are scattered or even lacking. Moreover, the data that is available is generally missing historical, social, cultural and ecological context. To address this situation, historians, archaeologists and ecologists must come together to share and combine data. The goal of the ATHENA project is to produce and maintain a unique database that allows researchers from multiple scientific disciplines to study human – nature relationships in an interdisciplinary setting. ATHENA will however not only be available for scientific purposes. The database will also be freely accessible for the broad public and for providing policy makers and managers with invaluable information for decision making.

More on our Mission Statement

Technical model

The ATHENA database structure will be set-up as a growth model. Existing databases with geographically explicit archaeological and historical data on flora and fauna will be linked. Furthermore, databases containing, or referring to historical written, pictorial and oral sources will be linked in the confines of ATHENA. An access portal will be developed by means of which the mutually linked subdatabases can be approached and information can be combined and integrated. Furthermore, to facilitate inclusion of historical data not yet made accessible in any database, external online input portals are to be developed or adapted. These input portals will enable scientists and other professionals, but also amateur historians and ecologists, to deliver new data to the system.

More on the data sources and portal


A strong interdisciplinary team of partners and institutions has already committed to the ATHENA project. The development of the ATHENA database fits the research strategy and competences of the institutions of each of the partners.

More on the Partners and institutions

Project description


Mission statement

Research setting

Currently the study of historical humans - nature relationships in the Low Countries is focused on several lines of research. One of those fields involves the reconstruction of historical ecosystems. Biological baselines that correspond to ‘pristine’ or ‘minimally disturbed’ conditions are developed to assess the effects of current and historical levels of human impact. These baselines aid nature conservationists to develop holistic, environmentally and historically valid plans of action. The historical perspective also permits biologists to determine the extent to which ecosystems can deal with environmental pressure without crossing biodiversity thresholds. Another field of research focuses on the impact of changes in the natural environment on socio-economic development. Studies of pre-modern economy, politics, culture, food preparation and consumption in relation to nature, show that changing environmental conditions have had a profound effect on human history. The impacts of resource scarcity on politics, economy and society, for instance, are being researched in long term and multilevel analyses. Yet another field of research concerns the influence of culture on natural composition. Either directly or indirectly, cultural phenomena have influenced nature. Ideas from the human intellectual realm about the biophysical world – and animals in particular – influence the way we deal with the natural environment. This involves, amongst others, research on the direct influence of changes in consumption and production patterns, food collection and agricultural practices but also of the impact of ideological, religious and philosophical viewpoints on biodiversity development.

ATHENA facilitates advancements in these broad fields of research and aims to integrate the individual sciences involved. This approach makes history more inclusive in its narratives by examining the historical role and place of nature in human life and improves conceptual and mathematical models of human impacts on nature.

An interdisciplinary database

An interdisciplinary approach is necessary to fully understand the impacts and consequences of human-nature dialogues. By collecting, combining and integrating information from different historical sources, scientists, policy makers and the broader public can more easily study and articulate changes in mutual relationships between socio-cultural and ecological systems. To this end a wide variety of historical, archaeological and ecological sources are brought together in ATHENA, from species distributions data to paintings, and from bestiaria to newspaper articles. Rather than concentrating on one specific event in time and space, ATHENA allows to study and understand human-nature interactions across temporal and spatial scales in order to gain a full understanding of its cumulative effects. By working with data from different disciplines information quality can be improved significantly. Archaeological data can cover periods with poor historical information and various datasets can be calibrated where there is a temporal overlap in archaeological, historical and observational data. In addition, information on historical, social, cultural and ecological phenomena provides much needed contexts for human-nature relationships research. The interdisciplinary nature of ATHENA will greatly enhance the understanding of such historical relationships, an endeavor not likely to be achieved by a single discipline alone.


Aim of the ATHENA project is to develop an internationally unique database allowing researchers from multiple scientific disciplines to study human-nature relationships in an interdisciplinary environment. The resulting database will provide a platform for large-scale, comparative (both in space and time) and multilevel studies of human-nature relationships. The development of the ATHENA database will advance the fields of research involved, and will strengthen high level interdisciplinary research on human – nature interactions.

Data portal

ATHENA aims to create a network of databases that provide state-of-the-art data by means of a data portal that integrates existing and to be developed databases. The proposed online relational data portal gives either direct historical information on species and/or references to relevant sources. The data presented in ATHENA are collected and selected by teams of researchers supported by technology. ATHENA, however, is much more than just a portal to data collections. It aims to combine data, harmonize metadata, develop standards, and provide state-of-the-art visualizations.

The data portal:

  • Harvests the data in the linked existing databases.
  • Harmonizes the data in such a way that they can be presented with a uniform structure and format.
  • Enriches the data with appropriate geographical and temporal contexts.
  • Provides a tool for selection, combination and aggregation of data according to taxonomy, geographical range and time lines. Through this tool users are able to construct and download datasets.
  • Stores retrieved data and makes them available for further processing and research.
  • Provides a shell for presentation and visualization.

Central in ATHENA are ‘species’, meaning not only species in a strict biological sense (indicated by a scientific genus and species name) but also units of higher and lower taxonomic order (Class – Order –Family vs. subspecies and varieties), and even mythical species like basilisks, werewolves and unicorns. Species thus form the main entrance of ATHENA. From this entrance subdatabases are queried, yielding information from historical, archaeological and ecological sources. The portal can be consulted on the following (preliminary) thematic fields; nomenclature, non-fiction literature, art and culture, archaeology, natural history, ecology, socio-economics. Mutual data streams are foreseen between the respective fields. For instance, in each thematic field geographically explicit information and information of a more generic nature can be found. Relevant geographical information on changes in distribution of species may be inferred from each thematic field, and consequently combined.


Scheme of data portal


Data sources

ATHENA will start to link already existing databases from three field of research, i.e. historical, archaeological and ecological (observational) sources. The archaeological (BoneInfo and RADAR) and ecological (NDFF, LVD, NLBIF) databases contain geographically explicit species observations. These observational records are often enriched with information on the environmental and cultural contexts. The archaeological and ecological databases are explicitly confined to the Netherlands. The historical databases (Nederlab, RKD, Meertens institute) include newspaper archives, oral reports and pictorial sources. Some of these data sets might contain explicit geographical and temporal information on species. Most data sources, however, reveal more generic information. The data may, for instance, describe consumption and production patterns, food collection or agricultural practices. These data sources may cover a broader geographical range since the applicability of such information in understanding the historical significance of human-nature relationships may exceed historical and present-day political borders. The preliminary geographical borders for such information are therefore set to north-western Europe. The existing databases will also be enriched with relevant information which has not yet been digitized before. Therefore, an entirely new database will be developed for socio-economic and cultural data related to human-nature interactions. Data sources that will be included in the historical database are legal records, economic accounts, agricultural statistics, herbals, bestiaria, educational sources, travel journals and historical maps. Furthermore, a thesaurus for a set of selected animal and plant species will be developed to successfully query historical texts.

Participating databases

Flora and fauna
Flora, fauna, micro-organisms
Newspapers and journals

Visual model

The visual model of ATHENA shows a demo of the portal as it may develop in the process. The model will open in a separate window.


ATHENA Consortium

Partners and institutions

A strong interdisciplinary team of leading scholars and scientific institutions in the field of human-nature research has already committed to the ATHENA project. The development of the ATHENA database fits the research strategy and competences of each partner and institution involved.
Contact ATHENA by e-mail:

Program coordination

Jan Luiten van Zanden

Prof. Dr. Jan Luiten van Zanden
Professor Social and Economic History, UU/IISH

Rob Lenders

Dr. Rob Lenders
Assistant Professor Environmental Science, RU

Joop Schaminée

Prof. Dr. Joop Schaminée
Professor Eco-informatics, RU & WUR

Stephan Hennekens

Stephan Hennekens
Research Associate, Eco-informatics, Alterra

Thomas van Goethem

Thomas van Goethem
Junior Researcher Environmental Science, RU / Social and Economic History, UU


Radbout Universiteit

Department of Environmental Science
Communication and information sciences

Wageningen University and Research Center

Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology Group

Universiteit Utrecht

Department of social and economic history

Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed

Department of Archeology








Instituut voor de Nederlandse taal

Stainless Media



Geschiedenis en biodiversiteit (Dutch) - Jan Luiten van Zanden - 1-7-2019 (pdf, 3 MB)
De Bolderik Een persoonlijk verhaal (Dutch) - Joop Schaminée - 1-7-2019 (pdf, 2.5 MB)
De Ringslang en de Basilisk Van beschermende huisgod tot de Antichrist (Dutch) - Rob Lenders - 1-7-2019 (pdf, 3.5 MB)
De rijkdom en beperkingen van archeozoölogische en archeobotanische data (Dutch) - Otto Brinkkemper & Inge van der Jagt - 1-7-2019 (pdf, 3MB)
Symposium 10 april 2015 (Dutch) - Rob Lenders (pdf, 845KB)
Bronnen over trapgans en craan (Dutch) - Jan de Rijk (pdf, 1.5MB)
Geboeid door het verleden (Dutch) - Joop Schaminee (pdf, 3.8MB)
Is er nog hoop voor de natuur (Dutch) - Jan Luiten van Zanden (pdf, 1.2MB)
Mythe van het wilde paard in Europa (Dutch) - Rob Lenders (pdf, 3MB)
Mens-natuur relaties in historisch perspectief (Dutch) - Thomas van Goethem (pdf, 359KB)
Dieren in het vroegmiddeleeuwse grafritueel (Dutch) - Inge van der Jagt (pdf, 1.8MB)