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Special Issue "Historical Ecology, Archaeology and Biocultural Landscapes: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to the Long Anthropocene"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Geography and Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2021) | Viewed by 15707

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Giuseppe Bazan
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department STEBICEF, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy
Interests: landscape ecology; vegetation science; botany; biodiversity biocultural landscape; historical ecology
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Dr. Angelo Castrorao Barba
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Escuela de Estudios Árabes (EEA), Granada 18010, España
Interests: medieval archaeology; landscape archaeology; historical ecology; GIS
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

From the micro to the global scale, the human impact is the real protagonist of the Long Anthropocene across the long-term timescale. It is impossible to look at the environment and the landscape without considering the long processes of anthropic activities. The driving forces in landscape change are strongly related to historical dynamics. Changes in political regimes, social structures, economic modes of productions, cultural and religious influences—the entire traditional domain of the Humanities—are phenomena entangled with many ecological and environmental factors. Understanding landscapes in the Long Anthropocene is impossible today without a cross-disciplinary approach.

Landscape trajectories can be investigated through two different points of view. Vanished landscapes are the main object of study for many “archaeologies” (landscape archaeology; environmental archaeology; geoarchaeology) and “paleo” disciplines (paleobotany, paleoecology; paleoclimatology; paleogeography) that aim to reconstruct the nonvisible past. The second approach focuses on the contemporary landscape as a palimpsest formed by various historical layers in which evidence of the relationship between the human footprint and ecological patterns can be detected.

Nevertheless, both of these approaches, one based on “hidden traces” and the other on current layered contexts, share a concept of landscape as a complex and heterogeneous mosaic of spaces where it is possible to read both the temporal dynamics (historical stratification) and the specific characteristics of individual patches situated in various ecotopes, a series of hierarchical relationships between climatic conditions, substrates, landforms, soils, vegetation, and human activities.

The main aim in this Special Issue is to combine and stimulate an interdisciplinary debate between landscape archaeology, historical ecology, human–environment interaction, and sustainability in order to address the following issues across different regions all over the world.

The following themes will be explored:

– Methods for multidisciplinary analysis of formation, change, abandonment, and resilience in landscapes;

– Historical perspectives of human impact on environment dynamics and sustainability;

– Framing the concept of the Long Anthropocene from historical and ecological perspectives.

Contributions regarding different geographical areas and focusing on the Special Issue key themes from archaeological and/or ecological disciplines will be strongly encouraged as well as broader overviews.

Prof. Dr. Giuseppe Bazan
Dr. Angelo Castrorao Barba
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • historical landscape ecology
  • historical vegetation science
  • landscape archaeology
  • environmental archaeology
  • human geography
  • human–environment interaction and sustainability
  • Long Anthropocene

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Editorial

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Editorial
Historical Ecology, Archaeology and Biocultural Landscapes: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to the Long Anthropocene
Sustainability 2022, 14(9), 5017; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14095017 - 22 Apr 2022
Viewed by 332
Abstract
From the local to the global scale, human impact is the real protagonist of the Anthropocene [...] Full article

Research

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Article
Historical Ecology: A Robust Bridge between Archaeology and Ecology
Sustainability 2021, 13(15), 8210; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13158210 - 22 Jul 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1276
Abstract
How can the disintegration of ecosystems, the foundation of life on Earth, be halted and these critical systems be rehabilitated? For scholars, the action list is long: increase the pool of expertise by engaging all relevant knowledge communities, collect rapidly disappearing data, analyze [...] Read more.
How can the disintegration of ecosystems, the foundation of life on Earth, be halted and these critical systems be rehabilitated? For scholars, the action list is long: increase the pool of expertise by engaging all relevant knowledge communities, collect rapidly disappearing data, analyze with both familiar and new methods, and apply the results of actionable science to policy and practice. This enormously complex and urgent activity requires an integrated research framework with the flexibility to accommodate the global diversity of places, peoples, and processes and to examine future options. Based on evidence of environmental change and human activity, the framework termed historical ecology assembles tools to construct an evidence-validated, open-ended narrative of the evolution and transformation of specific ecosystems and landscapes. Welcoming knowledge from scholars and communities of both heritage and practice, this comprehensive and systemic understanding offers insights, models, and ideas for the durable future of contemporary landscapes. The article evaluates how practitioners could adjust aspects of practice and improve access to policy makers, and the discussion applies to regions and localities everywhere. Full article
Article
The Monumental Olive Trees as Biocultural Heritage of Mediterranean Landscapes: The Case Study of Sicily
Sustainability 2021, 13(12), 6767; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13126767 - 15 Jun 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1115
Abstract
Monumental olive trees, with their longevity and their remarkable size, represent an important information source for the comprehension of the territory where they grow and the human societies that have kept them through time. Across the centuries, olive trees are the only cultivated [...] Read more.
Monumental olive trees, with their longevity and their remarkable size, represent an important information source for the comprehension of the territory where they grow and the human societies that have kept them through time. Across the centuries, olive trees are the only cultivated plants that tell the story of Mediterranean landscapes. The same as stone monuments, these green monuments represent a real Mediterranean natural and cultural heritage. The aim of this paper is to discuss the value of monumental trees as “biocultural heritage” elements and the role they play in the interpretation of the historical stratification of the landscape. We present the results of a survey of the most significant olive trees growing in Sicily. The selection was based on the “monumentality” aspects of trees, taking into account dendrometric parameters and environmental contexts. The collected dataset constitutes a heterogeneous sample of 367 specimens of considerable size that, in some cases, reach a circumference of about 19 m. Starting from the data presented here, the whole Sicilian territory shows a historical relationship between human and olive. The presence of these plant monuments is, therefore, evidence of long-term, often centennial, landscapes as a result of sustainable use of the territory. Full article
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Article
Transition and Transformation of a Rural Landscape: Abandonment and Rewilding
Sustainability 2021, 13(9), 5130; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13095130 - 04 May 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 878
Abstract
The concepts of slow environmental change through evolutionary processes associated with ordinary artefacts from Central European rural life as part of biogeographical morphology was studied in Goričko Landscape Park, northeastern Slovenia. The research was based on field observations, including the recording of a [...] Read more.
The concepts of slow environmental change through evolutionary processes associated with ordinary artefacts from Central European rural life as part of biogeographical morphology was studied in Goričko Landscape Park, northeastern Slovenia. The research was based on field observations, including the recording of a former aristocratic dwelling and two small rural farmsteads, all abandoned. An analysis of the extant residual artefacts, their in situ placement and their former utility was undertaken. The value of residual items in ascertaining local perceptions, occupations and utilizations of landscape resources, from various viewpoints, was discussed in relationship to the surrounding landscape. The authors found that the abandoned rural buildings are now utilised as a faunal habitat, and the ruins were reincorporated into the wider landscape. The study sites represent empty places in the process of returning to nature after the retreat of human activities. The research examined the transition and transformation of biodegradable/non-biodegradable components within a rural landscape. Full article
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Article
Managing the Historical Agricultural Landscape in the Sicilian Anthropocene Context. The Landscape of the Valley of the Temples as a Time Capsule
Sustainability 2021, 13(8), 4480; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13084480 - 16 Apr 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 636
Abstract
The debate over whether we are entering the Anthropocene Epoch focuses on the unequal consumption of the Earth system’s resources at the expense of nature’s regenerative abilities. To find a new point of balance with nature, it is useful to look back in [...] Read more.
The debate over whether we are entering the Anthropocene Epoch focuses on the unequal consumption of the Earth system’s resources at the expense of nature’s regenerative abilities. To find a new point of balance with nature, it is useful to look back in time to understand how the so-called “Great Acceleration”—the surge in the consumption of the planet’s resources—hastened the arrival of the Anthropocene. Some particular places—for various reasons—survived the Great Acceleration and, as time capsules, have preserved more or less intact some landscape features that have disappeared elsewhere. How can we enhance these living archives that have come down to us? Through the analysis of the case study of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento (Sicily, Italy), the article presents several initiatives that have tried to answer this question. For example, the pre-Anthropocene landscape of the Valley of the Temples has preserved rare specimens of some plant species from which living gene banks have been built for the propagation of species, such as the Living Museum of the Almond Tree. In addition, the Kolymbethra, an ancient example of a Mediterranean garden, has been brought back to life revealing finds related to Greek and Arab cultivation and irrigation systems. The research perspectives opened by the “disappeared landscapes” show that the knowledge of the historical landscape, in particular the mechanisms behind its resilience, is indispensable for countering the unsustainable voracity of the Anthropocene and rediscover a renewed synergy between humankind and nature. Full article
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Article
Historical Ecology of Scandinavian Infield Systems
Sustainability 2021, 13(2), 817; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13020817 - 15 Jan 2021
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 1270
Abstract
Infield systems originated during the early Iron Age and existed until the 19th century, although passing many transitions and changes. The core features of infield systems were enclosed infields with hay-meadows and crop fields, and unenclosed outland mainly used for livestock grazing. We [...] Read more.
Infield systems originated during the early Iron Age and existed until the 19th century, although passing many transitions and changes. The core features of infield systems were enclosed infields with hay-meadows and crop fields, and unenclosed outland mainly used for livestock grazing. We examine the transitions and changes of domesticated landscapes with infield systems using the framework of human niche construction, focusing on reciprocal causation affecting change in both culture and environment. A first major transition occurred during the early Middle Ages, as a combined effect of a growing elite society and an increased availability of iron promoted expansion of villages with partly communal infields. A second major transition occurred during the 18th and 19th centuries, due to a then recognized inefficiency of agricultural production, leading to land reforms. In outlands, there was a continuous expansion of management throughout the whole period. Even though external factors had significant impacts as well, human niche construction affected a range of cultural and environmental features regarding the management and structure of domesticated landscapes with infield systems. Thus, niche construction theory is a useful framework for understanding the historical ecology of infield systems. Full article
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Article
A Meaningful Anthropocene?: Golden Spikes, Transitions, Boundary Objects, and Anthropogenic Seascapes
Sustainability 2020, 12(16), 6459; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12166459 - 11 Aug 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 2017
Abstract
As the number of academic manuscripts explicitly referencing the Anthropocene increases, a theme that seems to tie them all together is the general lack of continuity on how we should define the Anthropocene. In an attempt to formalize the concept, the Anthropocene Working [...] Read more.
As the number of academic manuscripts explicitly referencing the Anthropocene increases, a theme that seems to tie them all together is the general lack of continuity on how we should define the Anthropocene. In an attempt to formalize the concept, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) is working to identify, in the stratigraphic record, a Global Stratigraphic Section and Point (GSSP) or golden spike for a mid-twentieth century Anthropocene starting point. Rather than clarifying our understanding of the Anthropocene, we argue that the AWG’s effort to provide an authoritative definition undermines the original intent of the concept, as a call-to-arms for future sustainable management of local, regional, and global environments, and weakens the concept’s capacity to fundamentally reconfigure the established boundaries between the social and natural sciences. To sustain the creative and productive power of the Anthropocene concept, we argue that it is best understood as a “boundary object,” where it can be adaptable enough to incorporate multiple viewpoints, but robust enough to be meaningful within different disciplines. Here, we provide two examples from our work on the deep history of anthropogenic seascapes, which demonstrate the power of the Anthropocene to stimulate new thinking about the entanglement of humans and non-humans, and for building interdisciplinary solutions to modern environmental issues. Full article
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Article
Neoanthropocene Raising and Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage: A Case Study in Southern Italy
Sustainability 2020, 12(10), 4186; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12104186 - 20 May 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1096
Abstract
Analyzing the human history on the planet, a conflictual relation was raised when humankind had started destroying the natural ecosystem and biota, and consequently, a capacity to induce environmental change has increased throughout human history in the so-called Anthropocene age. A ‘noosphere’-centered civilization [...] Read more.
Analyzing the human history on the planet, a conflictual relation was raised when humankind had started destroying the natural ecosystem and biota, and consequently, a capacity to induce environmental change has increased throughout human history in the so-called Anthropocene age. A ‘noosphere’-centered civilization could produce a non-disruptive new kind of anthropocentrism. This is becoming a new context to define Neoanthropocene based on a renewed homeostatic relationship between Earth and mankind. The potential application of this theoretical approach has been tested in drafting steps of Plan of Lucania Apennines, Valdagri, and Lagonegrese National Park, in southern Italy. Drafting the plan, the authors have applied a strategic approach based on environmental and cultural evidence and have drafted an interpretation plan for local growth, consistent with local resources. The result is a plan, shared with local stakeholders, in which the authors have proposed a multisectoral development plan based on a ‘cluster approach’ for regeneration: The main wild areas are reached through a visitor center or similar introducing facilities, and they are connected with historical centers, archaeological parks, ski areas, accommodation facilities, and other local services. The expected effect is the growth in number of chances to develop business in accordance with environment protection duty. Full article
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Article
Contingency and Agency in the Mountain Landscapes of the Western Pyrenees: A Place-Based Approach to the Long Anthropocene
Sustainability 2020, 12(9), 3882; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12093882 - 09 May 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1145
Abstract
Regional- and biome-scale paleoecological analyses and archaeological syntheses in the mountain landscapes of the western Pyrenees suggest that the Long Anthropocene began with agropastoral land use at the onset of the Neolithic. Historical and geographic analyses emphasize the marginality of the western Pyrenees [...] Read more.
Regional- and biome-scale paleoecological analyses and archaeological syntheses in the mountain landscapes of the western Pyrenees suggest that the Long Anthropocene began with agropastoral land use at the onset of the Neolithic. Historical and geographic analyses emphasize the marginality of the western Pyrenees and the role of enforced social norms exacted by intense solidarities of kin and neighbors in agropastoral production. Both are satisfying and simple narratives, yet neither offers a realistic framework for understanding complex processes or the contingency and behavioral variability of human agents in transforming a landscape. The Long Anthropocene in the western Pyrenees was a spatially and temporally heterogeneous and asynchronous process, and the evidence frequently departs from conventional narratives about human landscape degradation in this agropastoral situation. A complementary place-based strategy that draws on geoarchaeological, biophysical, and socio-ecological factors is used to examine human causality and environmental resilience and demonstrate their relationship with the sustainability of mountain landscapes of the western Pyrenees over medium to long time intervals. Full article
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Article
Historical Suitability and Sustainability of Sicani Mountains Landscape (Western Sicily): An Integrated Approach of Phytosociology and Archaeobotany
Sustainability 2020, 12(8), 3201; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12083201 - 15 Apr 2020
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 1736
Abstract
Since 2015, the ongoing project “Harvesting Memories” has been focused on long-term landscape dynamics in Sicani Mountains (Western Sicily). Archaeological excavations in the case study site of Contrada Castro (Corleone) have investigated a settlement which was mainly occupied during the Early Middle Ages [...] Read more.
Since 2015, the ongoing project “Harvesting Memories” has been focused on long-term landscape dynamics in Sicani Mountains (Western Sicily). Archaeological excavations in the case study site of Contrada Castro (Corleone) have investigated a settlement which was mainly occupied during the Early Middle Ages (late 8th–11th century AD). This paper aims to understand the historical suitability and sustainability of this area analysing the correlation between the current dynamics of plant communities and the historical use of woods detected by the archaeobotanical record. An integrated approach between phytosociology and archaeobotany has been applied. The vegetation series of the study area has been used as a model to understand the ecological meaning and spatial distribution of archaeobotanical data on charcoals from the Medieval layers of the Contrada Castro site. The intersection between the frequency data of the archaeobotanical record and the phytosociological analysis have confirmed the maintenance of the same plant communities during the last millennium due to the sustainable exploitation of wood resources. An integrated comparison between the structure and composition of current phytocoenoses with archaeobotanical data allowed us to confirm that this landscape is High Nature Value (HNV) farmland and to interpret the historical vegetation dynamics linked to the activities and economy of a rural community. Full article
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Article
Ancient Environmental Preference and the Site Selection Pattern Based on the Edge Effect and Network Structure in An Ecosystem
Sustainability 2020, 12(1), 328; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12010328 - 31 Dec 2019
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 905
Abstract
Archaeological sites are facing serious threats from environmental changes in the background of urban sprawl. More efforts are needed to enhance the cognition of human–environment interactions for better conservation. Under the traditional geomantic view, the environmental preference involved was presented to guide ancient [...] Read more.
Archaeological sites are facing serious threats from environmental changes in the background of urban sprawl. More efforts are needed to enhance the cognition of human–environment interactions for better conservation. Under the traditional geomantic view, the environmental preference involved was presented to guide ancient life. In this study, we analyzed the edge effect and network structure of two periods in an ecological transition zone where the ancient sites were located. From the cases of Gouzhang and Yinxian, the separability of edge intensity indicated the different site selection patterns because of the discrepancy of patch fragmentation and ecological structure. Additionally, the different trends of the edge effect were thought to be related to the complexity of the ecological network. Besides that, the ancient cities located in or around the high-centrality terrain in the network of closed space could have provided the convenience of accessing living materials from early ecosystems. In practice, the comprehensive methods based on geomantic and ecological analysis proved effective when used to explore possible areas of the undiscovered archaeological sites. What is more important is that traditional environmental perceptions could be integrated into a scientific system of the ecological landscape and contribute more to archaeological research and the study of ancient culture. Full article
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Review

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Review
Historical Ecology in Brazil: A Systematic Mapping of Scientific Articles (1998–2021)
Sustainability 2021, 13(20), 11526; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132011526 - 19 Oct 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 953
Abstract
Historical Ecology is a multidisciplinary field that studies long-term relationships between humanity and the environment. There is a missing synthesis effort to organize and present the state of the scholarship in Historical Ecology in Brazil. We aimed to characterize by whom, when, where, [...] Read more.
Historical Ecology is a multidisciplinary field that studies long-term relationships between humanity and the environment. There is a missing synthesis effort to organize and present the state of the scholarship in Historical Ecology in Brazil. We aimed to characterize by whom, when, where, what, and how research in Historical Ecology has been conducted in Brazil. We made a systematic mapping of 118 scientific articles published in Portuguese, Spanish, and English that fit our inclusion criteria. The results showed articles from 1998 to May 2021, published in 79 different journals. We found 264 national and international authors (60% men and 40%women); 91% of all investigations were carried out in the Amazon and Atlantic Forest biomes. There are few works about Cerrado, Caatinga, and Pampa, and none for Pantanal. The most mentioned keywords were historical ecology, Amazon, forest, and archaeology. Twenty-three articles focused on a particular species, primarily plants; 37% of all articles used Historical Ecology as its central axis of research, and 63% as auxiliary. We found more than 35 methodological procedures, both from the social and natural sciences. This overview revealed achievements, research gaps, and opportunities in this field. Full article
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Review
Archaeogenetics and Landscape Dynamics in Sicily during the Holocene: A Review
Sustainability 2021, 13(17), 9469; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13179469 - 24 Aug 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1085
Abstract
The Mediterranean islands and their population history are of considerable importance to the interpretation of the population history of Europe as a whole. In this context, Sicily, because of its geographic position, represents a bridge between Africa, the Near East, and Europe that [...] Read more.
The Mediterranean islands and their population history are of considerable importance to the interpretation of the population history of Europe as a whole. In this context, Sicily, because of its geographic position, represents a bridge between Africa, the Near East, and Europe that led to the stratification of settlements and admixture events. The genetic analysis of extant and ancient human samples has tried to reconstruct the population dynamics associated with the cultural and demographic changes that took place during the prehistory and history of Sicily. In turn, genetic, demographic and cultural changes need to be understood in the context of the environmental changes that took place over the Holocene. Based on this framework, this paper aims to discuss the cultural and demographic dimension of the island by reviewing archaeogenetic studies, and lastly, we discuss the ecological constraints related to human peopling in times of change in landscapes that occurred on the island in various periods. Finally, possible directions for future archaeogenetic studies of Sicily are discussed. Despite its long human history, Sicily is still one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The lessons we learn from the past use of landscape provide models for sustainable future management of the Mediterranean’s landscapes. Full article
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