Human land use and in particular deforestation has changed ecosystem pattern and processes of most of the terrestrial biosphere. It is therefore one of the elements used to define the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch characterised by anthropogenic changes in the Earth’s system. This is often described as historically recent and potentially catastrophic for both humanity and the biosphere, but recent palaeoecological, archaeological and historic studies indicate that already since prehistory, deforestation has been extensive in some region. Insight in the dynamic relations between past human activities and the environment is therefore of key importance for addressing present day issues such as biodiversity loss, restoration and management of (semi-)natural biotopes, sustainability, and for the modelling of the impact of future climate change on global terrestrial biodiversity. But also to fully understand the relations between environmental and societal change, a thorough understanding of these interactions in the past is crucial.