Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Session 2 – Landscapes and settlements in transition


Session 2 – Landscapes and settlements in transition

Moderator: Alessandro Gnasso, University of Edinburgh


                Irrigation in Khuzistan after the Sasanians: Continuity, Decline, or Transformation?

Historians and archaeologists have long sought to understand how the Muslim Conquest over the territories ruled by the Sasanian Empire affected the socio-economic foundations of these regions. Several scholars, building upon various sources and proxies, have argued for decline in the agricultural heartlands of the Sasanian Empire, including the region of Shushtar, known for its extensive system of canals in the Sasanian period. Yet, Islamic sources inform us that the hinterland of Shushtar was the major centre for sugar production during the 9th and 10th centuries. Since cultivation and production of sugar is highly water demanding, it is unclear what kind of irrigation system sustained the mass production of sugar and how such a system related to the Sasanian system of canals and hydraulic structures. Did a new irrigation system replace the collapsed Sasanian system or did the Sasanian system sustain and evolve, despite the post-Sasanian political developments? This question opens a new window into the socio-political dynamics of Khuzistan in the 7th century. This research aims to map the relict irrigation system of Shushtar by utilizing satellite imagery to understand the hydraulic function and dynamics of the system through time. The paper is a report on the current work in progress that analyses the potentials and constraints of relying on the hydraulic analysis of archaeological remains of canals as a proxy to understand the developments of the agricultural economy of Khuzistan in the wake of socio-political dynamics of 7th century.

Respondent: Eberhard Sauer, University of Edinburgh

B: Paolo Forlin

                The periphery during the seventh century: the rise of a new landscape within the core of the Alps (Valsugana, Trentino, Italy).

The Valsugana valley lies in the eastern part of Trentino region, within the core of the Italian Alps, close to the Roman municipium of Tridentum (Trento). Characterised by a significant number of settlements during the Roman period and crossed by the imperial road Via Claudia Augusta, this area seems to be involved in a radical reshaping of the cultural and natural landscape from the end of the Late Antiquity onward.

Despite a lack of the archaeological excavations, an approach based on the integrated study of remote sensing data, palaeoenvironmental evidence, old archaeological datasets and patterns of field systems, has shown how the 7th century represented a turning point with the breakdown of the old landscape and the beginning of a new cultural landscape. This new landscape resulted in the abandonment of the Roman territorial organisation and a shift of the new settlements from the valley bottom towards the uplands. This study has analysed the relationship between climate and environmental change, the abandonment of the ancient landscape and the appearance of a new pattern of land use, widely focused on the integration of agriculture, pasture and woodland exploitation. Available radiometric dating evidences indicate the 7th century as the period during which these transformations became evident, and lead to the question as to whether this process could be connected with the settlement of the Longobard Groups within the valley, documented by three significant cemeteries that date back to the beginning of the same century.

The methodological approach presented in this paper could provide an innovative way to undertake analysis of peripheral areas, where in contrast to other Italian regions (such as the Po valley, Tuscany, Lazio, Emilia, Apulia) open area excavations and extensive surveys are absent.

Respondent: Helena Carr

C: Giuseppe Cacciaguerra, Antonino Facella, Luca Zambito

                Aspects of Settlement in Seventh Century Sicily

Despite the serious gaps and lags in archaeological research and the difficulties long experienced by archaeologists in finding reliable chronological markers for Sicilian Early Middle Ages (especially 8th-9th century), it now appears possible that a first attempt can be made at outlining some aspects of settlement dynamics in seventh century Sicily, thanks predominantly to the results of field work (both excavations and surveys) in the last decade.

The present paper is mainly based on the analysis of some archaeological contexts in eastern, central-southern and western Sicily, which the authors have been investigating in recent years. Significant aspects of settlement systems, primarily the rural settlement patterns (which can be essential also for a better understanding of the relationships between city and country), will be highlighted. Part of the study will be devoted to the examination of some features of material culture, like building types and artefacts, principally ceramics. Archaeological markers of Sicilian seventh century will be identified, as well as pottery classes which might be useful as ‘index fossil’ to mark the passage form Byzantine to Islamic age. Furthermore, we intend to discuss the contribution of ceramic finds to the definition of trade relationships between Sicily and other Mediterranean regions (Italy, Africa, Eastern Mediterranean), before the eight century fall-off in the volume of exchanges.

For each discussed topic we will try to outline aspects of continuity or discontinuity with the situation in both previous and following centuries. Furthermore, a distinction between phenomena that seem to occur across the whole of Sicily and those that can reveal sub-regional differences will be attempted. Finally we will consider the possible significance, in historical terms, of the detected trends.

Respondent: Denis Sami

See the full schedule for more!

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