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Metallurgy and forest landscapes in the Colline Metallifere (central Italy)

Which was the woodland during the intensive period of forest use?

The archaeological site of  the Rectory of Saint Niccolò (Photo of Laboratory of Vegetation History and Wood Anatomy).
The archaeological research carried out in the Rectory of Saint Niccolò by the University of Siena, in collaboration with the Municipality of Montieri and the “Unione Montana Colline Metallifere”, is the opportunity to describe the history of the forest landscape of the Colline Metallifere in the Middle Ages. The Rectory was developed on the plateau of the hill of Montieri and consisted of several buildings, including a church with six apses – unique in Italy – which cover a period between the 11th and 12th centuries AD.

The main objective of archaeological research is to reconstruct the history and development of the settlement in relation to the exploitation of the mineral resources in the area; closely related to the use of mines are the presence of numerous areas for the coal production (charcoal kilns), identified and mapped during the archaeological excavations. The charcoal in metallurgy was functional both to the extraction of the metals and to their processing, therefore its production was the basis of the economy of the site. Thus, in the long life of metalworking, the coal represented an important industry based on the exploitation of forests that characterized the area of the hill of Montieri.

Our team will sample and study the layers of charcoal kilns. The analysis carried out on wood charcoals will describe the long activities of the charcoal kilns and detect their relation with forest resources. We will retrace the evolution of the vegetation of the studied area, where currently deciduous oaks, beech and chestnut are the principal trees, and we will detect which was the sequence of forest landscapes during the period of forest exploitation. Then, comparing the ancient forestry cover with the life of the archaeological settlement, we will assess the human impact on the area of the Colline Metallifere.

With appropriate solutions, these scientific knowledges will be very useful in the implementation of projects of tourist enhancement and use, helping in understanding the environmental context in which the site is located: in fact, the history of woodland, still clearly visible, the history of the human community, and how they have influenced mutually.


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