CORDIS - EU research results

Archaeology of the European Medieval Earthquakes<br/>(AD 1000 - 1550)

Final Report Summary - ARMEDEA (Archaeology of the European Medieval Earthquakes(AD 1000 - 1550))

ArMedEa project
Final publishable summary report

The ArMedEa project (Archaeology of Medieval earthquakes in Europe, AD 1000-1550) explored the physical impacts of earthquakes, tsunamis and seismic-induced landslides during the later Middle Ages. The project was developed at a European scale and adopted a specifically archaeological approach to collate and integrate information from a wide range of sources including standing buildings, buried stratigraphical sequences and palaeoenvironmental data.

ArMedEa research activities focused on: (a) spatial analysis of the representativeness and reliability of records of late Medieval earthquakes in Europe; (b) the evaluation of seismic risk in Europe in the late Middle Ages; (c) the detailed investigation of a selection of case studies using a combination of remote sensing and fieldwork, and; (d) a first comparative evaluation of the different ‘risk-sensitive tactics’ adopted by late medieval societies.

The representativeness and reliability of records for late medieval earthquakes in Europe was investigated through GIS analysis (Kernel density estimation) which examined the geographical distribution of recorded seismic events. The European region with the highest number of recorded earthquakes in the Late Middle Ages was found to lie in central and northern Italy, whereas lower than anticipated levels of medieval seismicity – highlighted by comparing the distribution of recorded late medieval earthquakes against the distribution of 20th century seismic events - are focused on two areas: eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, including the Balkans, Romania, Greece and Crete, as well as Iceland (fig. 1). This immediately suggests an agenda for further investigation, particularly across eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean where our methodology indicates that there were more powerful seismic events during the Middle Ages than have been recorded hitherto.

The exploration of seismic risk in Medieval Europe was intended to measure just how great the impact of these seismic events was on communities and their economies. Analysis was focused on urban populations. Processing a map of the largest European cities in the late Middle Ages (n=73) against a seismic hazard map of contemporary Europe (released by the SHARE project), we observed that out of the 20 most seismically hazardous cities in late medieval Europe, 19 were located in Italy (fig. 2). We then explored in detail exactly how this seismic risk was distributed geographically. By creating a new database containing 186 cities with a medieval population above 3k, and then processing it spatially against our SHARE hazard map, we found that the area with the highest level of seismic risk in late medieval Europe was centred on central and northern Italy, notably around the large cities of Bologna and Florence. This analysis will offer new insights on the impact of large seismic events on regional economies, collective mentalities and beliefs, and ultimately on the development of risk-sensitive tactics adopted by late Medieval societies in Europe.

ArMedEa also undertook fieldwork in several European countries through collaborative partnerships with research institutions in Portugal (Azores), Spain, Italy, Austria and Cyprus (fig. 3). The project first identified a diverse suite of sites for in-depth investigation ranging from single buildings (the castle of Saranda Kolones, Cyprus; medieval churches in Vicenza, Italy) to urban contexts (Villach, Austria), and from entire medieval settlements (El Castillejo, Granada, Spain; Vila Franca do Campo, Azores, Portugal) to significant tracts of landscape (the Gail river valley, Austria). Remote sensing (Lidar), the photogrammetric recording of standing buildings (fig. 4), the results of archeological survey and excavation as well as innovative techniques in material dating (thermoluminescence) were integrated to investigate further the archaeology of specific medieval seismic events. Some of these fieldwork campaigns, such as an excavation in the Azores (Portugal) over two seasons or the analysis of the Romanesque buildings in Vicenza (Italy) still continue, and will therefore outlast than the end-date of the ArMedEa project. The results of our fieldwork will be published in individual academic papers.

The evaluation of ‘risk-sensitive tactics’ adopted by late medieval societies was the ultimate aim of the project. Rather than merely describing seismic damage still recognisable on archaeological sites, the project focused instead on individual and collective responses to risk. Our results will be published shortly in a special issue of Quaternary International which is devoted to the archaeology of adaptive cycles. Here we draw together past research and fresh evidence collected by the ArMedEa project to illustrate how complex the set of responses adopted by medieval groups could be, ranging from devotional practices aimed at mitigating the impact of the natural disaster, to functional and engineering responses both in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake and during the ongoing prevention of future seismic impacts.

The project has an active blog:

Paolo Forlin
Chris Gerrard

Captions (see attached figures)

Fig. 1 Calculated difference between the KDEs for late medieval and 20th century earthquakes

Fig. 2 Extracted values of seismic hazard for late medieval large cities (population >10k)

Fig. 3 Location of ArMedEa fieldwork.

Fig. 4 El Castillejo, Granada (Spain). Photogrammetric survey of a seismically damaged building.