The Pontine Marshes (Central Italy): a case study in wetland historical ecology

Kevin James Walsh, Peter Attema, Tymon de Haas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The citation of natural environmental processes as a key element in the formation and change of human culture has been unfashionable for some time. Whilst scepticism of certain unfettered cultural ecological or socio-ecological theories is understandable, archaeologists often fail to fully engage with the dynamic relationships between people and environment in the past. The study of Mediterranean landscapes in particular has comprised the use of environmental evidence in assessments of human versus climatic impact on the set of supposed marginal or risk-laden milieus that characterise this region. This paper revisits the potential of more nuanced cultural and (pre)historical ecological frameworks that explicitly develop notions of environmental knowledge in the investigation of cultural engagements with the environment. This contribution considers the diachronic development of the forms of environmental knowledge associated with Mediterranean wetlands. Although there is some consideration of the Neolithic and protohistoric periods, the case study focuses on Roman wetlands, in particular, the Pontine Marshes. This study permits a reassessment of different forms of Roman environmental knowledge and considers how certain forms of environmental knowledge were common to wetland groups from different chronological periods. Whilst “resilience” may well seem to characterise certain societies ecological relationships with most landscapes over the longue durée, resilience as a notion is conditioned by the chronological and spatial boundaries that we set ourselves as archaeologists and historians. A civilisation or empire appears resilient if it exists for several centuries, whilst a single site and its family subjected to a series of floods over a decade may display a lack of resilience and abandon that site
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-46
Number of pages20
JournalBABESCH: Annual Papers on Mediterranean Archaeology
Early online date25 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • historical ecology
  • Mediterranean
  • wetland
  • landscape archaeology
  • protohistory

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