Skip to main content

Transported cultural landscapes: the role of colonization processes in cultural landscape shaping

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ULISSES (Transported cultural landscapes: the role of colonization processes in cultural landscape shaping)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2017-09-30

The Mediterranean Sea has been the cradle and contact route of ancient civilizations, but little is known about how cultural exchanges, migratory and colonial processes have contributed to the cultural shaping of Mediterranean landscapes. Long-term interaction of societies do not only imply the exchange of people, socio-cultural patterns, goods or ideas but also the exchange and introduction of land-uses, plants and land organization systems in new territories. The latter can led to significant landscape change in the new territories, giving place to the ‘so called’ transported landscapes. Despite its significance, the characterization of the role that colonial processes played in the configuration of Mediterranean paleo-landscapes in Europe and overseas has been poorly addressed so far. The ULISSES project was designed to contribute to this long-standing research question by analyzing the role of colonial processes in the configuration of cultural landscapes in coastal Spain following Greek and Roman settlement, and (2) addressing the transportation of European Mediterranean landscapes into the New World during the Spanish colonization of North America.

To address these goals, ULISSES has developed an innovative research joining multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental analyses in wetlands and the study of archaeo-historical sources in the Empordà plain (Catalonia, Spain) and southern California. These areas have been selected for accounting for a long and intense history of colonial and socio-economic exchanges and for having ancient colonial bonds. The Empordà plain outstands for its archaeological richness documenting the development of the Iberian culture and subsequent founding of the Greek and Roman colonies of Emporion-Emporiae. Mediterranean agropastoral practices, plants and crops will be introduced into Mediterranean areas of the New World in the 18th century following the Spanish colonization of California, a territory that had been occupied by hunter-gatherer communities for millennia.
"In the Empordà plain, palaeoenvironmental analyses were conducted in a sediment record from "" Els Estanys"" palaeolagoon, located only 3.5 km W of the Emporion-Emporiae site. Radiocarbon results support continuous sedimentation from 1600 cal BC to 600 cal AD, when the paleolagoon was infilled. The core was sampled and processed for pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs), mineralogy and geochemistry analyses. In addition, further pollen and NPP analyses were performed for the Greek and Roman periods in a sediment record from the Castellò lagoon, located 15km N of Emporion-Emporiae. This allowed tracking landscape changes following the founding of the Greek and Roman colonies in both their immediate hinterland and more distant areas within the coastal plain. Results obtained confirm that Greek and Roman settlement played a remarkable role in the cultural landscape shaping of its hinterland. Coeval to the development of stable Iberian settlement and the founding of the Greek colony of Emporion in the late 6th century cal BC, a major landscape change is documented with long-lasting clearances of oak woodlands, increased cropping activities, the expansion of pasturelands and the grazing exploitation of marshy areas. Roman settlement in the area would accentuate the landscape opening, occupation and management of the coastal hinterland with 1) the removal of littoral oak woodlands in littoral ranges, 2) the expansion of wet pastures and cultivation lands in an increasingly drained floodplain, 3) the introduction of new crops, 4) intensified rural settlement, and 5) the development of new economic activities such as mining and smelting. However, the influence of colonial settlement and landscape management faded away with increased distance to the colonial sites. Indeed, palaeoenvironmental results obtained in the nearby Castellò lagoon stress that agropastoral activities only caused short-lived clearances in the northern part of the Empordà plain, also under the control of the colonies but at a certain distance of the main settlements.

In California, we recovered sedimentary records from two wetlands located close to the Santa Barbara Spanish Mission. However, pollen analyses and radiocarbon dating confirmed the existence of a sedimentary hiatus in the upper part of the cores, compromising the analysis of the historical period. Consequently, alternative research was conducted in California. Pollen and NPP analyses were performed in a sedimentary lake record from Santa Catalina Island covering the historical period. Results obtained were compared to available palaeoenvironmental data along the California coast to assess regional landscape changes related to the Spanish colonization. Palaeoenvironmental data shows that the establishment of the Spanish Missions caused a major landscape change and environmental impact. Introduced livestock grazing activities were instrumental in favouring 1) erosive processes; 2) degrading native salt and brackish marsh vegetation; and 3) promoting the invasion of alien European weeds and plants. Spanish colonists also banned traditional burning of vegetation by native populations, and introduced European crops such as olive trees, cereals or vineyards which currently play a major socio-economic role in the California landscape. The introduction of agrospastoral landscapes focused on Mission lands under direct colonial control and immediate territories, but was not extensive to areas located at a certain distance of the Missions. Despite distinct negative environmental consequences such as loss of native habitats or the expansion of exotic plants, Spanish settlers also contributed to the onset of an agropastoral landscape which not only forms part of the cultural heritage of California but also plays a major socio-economic role for the present-day California society

Scientific results have been disseminated in international peer-reviewed publications, presentations in international congresses, University seminars and courses. ULISSES’ results have also been disseminated to the general public in radio programs and museum’s exhibits.
ULISSES has stressed the significant role that socio-cultural exchange and colonial processes have played to the historical shaping of both European and overseas Mediterranean landscapes. In doing so, ULISSES results can be instrumental in gauging the cultural bonds between Mediterranean regions and societies through the acknowledgement of inter-related landscape heritages. ULISSES has also provided present-day Spanish and Californian Mediterranean societies with an important historical information on their landscapes that will serve organizations in charge of protecting and managing the cultural heritage of the studied areas to develop sustainable land management strategies and historically grounded economic activities which will exploit the cultural potential of their territories.

The ULISSES project has also significantly boosted the scientist in charge research competences, management skills and employability so she could pursue a long-term research position, a goal which was met in 2016 with her recruitment as permanent researcher in the French National Center for Scientific Research. This guarantees both the further development of the research initiated within ULISSES on cultural transported landscapes as well as the future dissemination of results obtained well beyond the action.