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Late Holocene landscape changes in central Italy

From 200 BC to AD 1300 the landscape on the Etruscan coast in central Italy changed completely independent of climate

In a research paper published in The Holocene, our team applied long term analysis of charcoal-deposits in order to explore how the landscape at the Etruscan coast in Central Italy changed from 200 BC to AD 1300. Anthracological studies has been carried out in three sites located on the Tyrrhenian coast of central Italy, ancient northern Etruria: the Castle of Donoratico, the town of Populonia, and the port of Alberese.

The integrated comparison of charcoal data from 2456 samples from the three different localities with regional pollen and micro-charcoal data available in northern Etruria shows that the changes in vegetation were completely independent of climate. Instead they were connected to the economic and social dynamics, which characterise the history of this part of central Italy.

In the beginning Quercus ilex forests progressively retracted from 3rd century BC in favour of open macchia scrubland. This reflected the growing human impact of Romanisation characterised by intensive agriculture and livestock grazing. The transition from macchia to deciduous Quercus forest at the end of the Roman period from AD 450 – 550 and lasting until AD 800 – 900 is related to economic and cultural factors characterised by the abandonment of land. Finally between AD 1000 -1200 the vegetation cover shifted once again towards open macchia scrubland. At the same time re-settlement took place, as evidenced by intensive orchards.

Charcoal data also showed that the expansion of olive and chestnut trees in central Italy first became prolific from AD 1000 and not in the Roman period. This means that extensive cultivation of chestnuts and olives has very recent origins and should be attributed to the introduction of a feudal system and the later political organism of the medieval towns.


Read the paper