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Filling ‘empty’ landscapes, mapping the archaeological continuum

Final Report Summary - EMPTYSCAPES (Filling ‘empty’ landscapes, mapping the archaeological continuum)

The survey and interpretation of the Emptyscapes project have borne out the potential effectiveness of this approach to rural landscapes in Italy, and by implication in much of the Mediterranean area, showing clearly that the concept of the archaeological continuum is a reality that lies almost within our grasp, even in the specific environmental and archaeological conditions of the Mediterranean world.

Previous research strategies in Italy have been largely reactive, with a focus on the known or semi-known through the use of methodologies, which reveal only a limited part of the potentially recoverable evidence. Archaeological distribution maps, particularly for the Rusellae area, consisted until very recently of a collection of dots within a sea of ‘emptiness’.
Indeed, in most cases the empty spaces seemed to be in the majority.

Overcoming this limitation, as has been demonstrated here, we will be able to open up completely new opportunities to explore a wide range of as yet unanswered archaeological and historical questions. Moreover, also current strategies and practice within conservation issues and rescue archaeology will also be strongly affected from Emptyscapes research outcomes.

Summing up the opportunity to uncover and document previously inaccessible evidence is important for at least three key reasons, which are archaeological, methodological and political.

1) Substantial improvement of archaeological understanding. The identification, for instance, of a previously unsuspected funerary landscape, field systems, enclosures or of structured medieval settlements on the lowland around Rusellae, and so forth, cannot be dismissed as the simple addition of dots or detail to the mapped record of the area. The newly discovered enclosures represent a form of settlement previously unknown in lowland Tuscany. Archaeological concepts developed in recent decades, of a largely ‘uninhabited’ Tuscan countryside in the formative centuries of the medieval period, have thus been thrown open to further discussion. Speculation has also been invited on the role that the ruling classes or the local communities of the countryside played in the inception and development of this kind of rural settlement.

2) Could the same density of evidences be found everywhere becoming a standard? This is a key research question. Indeed, the results achieved so far are also important for a methodological reason. Given that exactly the same pattern of advance in data capture and archaeological understanding has ensued wherever these new holistic approach to landscape studies have been applied in the UK and in the continental Europe it is a reasonable to argue on the basis of the results achieved so far that the same partnership of traditional and innovative methodologies ought to continue producing the same improvement in Italy too, helping us to examine and possibly revise present perceptions about the content and progressive transformations of the Italian countryside.

3) Conservation policy. We already pointed out that Emptyscapes project confirms, reinforces and expand to the Mediterranean area experience gathered so far, both within the academic environment and in development-related archaeology, showing that within the Mediterranean area an absence of detectable human activity is very much the exception rather than the rule. The impact of this realisation should not be underestimated – it becomes a total misunderstanding to ask questions in terms of the presence or absence of evidence. In theory as well as in practice it is now widely accepted that almost every square metre of the landscape has been altered, directly or indirectly, by human intervention in the distant or more recent past. As a consequence almost any development proposal is likely to have an impact on the surviving evidence of such activity. Of course it would be foolish in this context to propose that development must not happen. This is clearly an untenable position, but how are we going to document archaeology at best and avoid or at least reduce the losses that must inevitably follow? Surely the finest protection would be the mandatory employment of strategies involving the use of the best available techniques for revealing these fragile traces of the past.

It is quite challenging to show clearly the socio-economic impact of an archaeological project. However, the main impact could be identified as follow:
1) Outstanding results gathered within Emptyscapes project are expected to have a positive influence on the implementation of non-destructive techniques within Mediterranean archaeology better improving, protecting and communicating archaeological heritage.
2) The progressive increasing of the use of remote sensing techniques with particular regard to new development would raise the quest for high skilled job opportunity.
3) Improving the quality of Planning Led Archaeology would have a positive impact on the overall cost of new development but above all reducing substantially unforeseen archaeological discovery and therefore delivery time.

The project is going to have follow ups in the short and the medium period.
1) Submission to the Swedish system of research funding (4 years Research Project Grant application on Culture and Cultural Heritage Research) in partnership with the University of Lund (Principal organization, PI Prof Niccolò dell’Unto), University of Cambridge ( and University of Siena. The research proposal is aimed to match UAVs and new generation optical sensors for the understanding of archeological Landscape.
2) Participation to the Submission to the Leverhulme Trust (PI is prof. Martin Millett) of Research Project Grants on landscape archeology case study based in the UK including the implementation of large scale geophysical survey and UAV archaeological interpretation and mapping.
3) November 2016 - École Normale Supérieure (Paris) appointed The PI to give a comprehensive overview has and an open discuss on the results of Emptyscapes project.
4) December 2016 – February 2017 – The Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage appointed the PI to develop a research project in Iraq aimed to map and monitoring the archaeological heritage with particular regard to the contexts occupied by ISIS. The final goal of the project is aimed to run a course to Iraqi superintendence officers from January to February 2017 in Erbil at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage.
5) Emptyscapes project is going to continue in the same sample area and possibly expanded in new ones. Concluded his Marie Curie fellowship the PI is going back to the University of Siena where he is faculty member. He has just opened up a new grant position aimed to continue data acquisition within the Rusellae sample area for the next year.
6) By the next 3 years the PI is intended to submit an ERC advanced proposal partially rooted to the Emptyscapes project.