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Origins of a new Economic Union (7th to 12th centuries): resources, landscapes and political strategies in a Mediterranean region

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - nEU-Med (Origins of a new Economic Union (7th to 12th centuries): resources, landscapes and political strategies in a Mediterranean region)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2021-05-31

The most recent historical-archaeological overviews relating to the economic and political trends that characterize the Europe of the Early Middle Ages, have underlined the important and homogeneous economic growth recorded between the 7th and 9th centuries in the Northern torritories. In southern Europe, on the contrary, some areas, such as Italy, were involved in similar processes of transformation and development only from the late 9th century, until the formation, during the 12th century, of a more balanced economic scenario, the prelude to a more comprehensive and uniform system of trade and cultural exchanges which linked North and South Europe.
On the basis of these disciplinary and methodological premises, backed by a solid multidisciplinary approach, the nEU-Med project aimed at providing new answers to the question, while at the same time indicating the conditions that made it possible.
The project envisages a focus on a specific territory, coinciding with a vast area of Tuscan Maremma, the Colline Metallifere district (central-Tyrrhenian Italy), selecting a vast area that encompassed the Gulf of Follonica and its inland reliefs. (Fig. 1).
In the Middle Ages this area was distinguished by a variety of natural environments (coastal marshland; plains; mountainous areas) and numerous economic resources (forestry, exploitation of salt; animal husbandry; cereal growing; mineral resources). The coexistence of many different characteristics and the presence of a solid substratum of past research make this area a valid territory-type of the Western Mediterranean and a good observatory for evaluation of the increase in commerce and possible growth in relation to the changes in the natural and forestry environments. In particular, the project sought to identify, especially through material evidence, specific growth markers, applying a strongly multidisciplinary method of analysis. The sample territory was therefore divided into three distinct areas of research: the Val di Pecora and Val di Cornia in its coastal portion; the mining areas, especially that of the upper Val di Pecora, in its interior.
At the end of the five years covered by the project, thanks to the commitment of the team and of young researchers who supplemented it, relevant results have been achieved:
1. the research has identified, both in the coastal plain area and in its hinterland, a continuity of activities which, from the Late Antique period, shows a progressive increase in material evidence, especially between the 9th and 12th centuries. The excavation of coastal salt works in the locality of Carlappiano (fig. 2) and of the directional center of a royal estate, at the site of Vetricella (fig. 3), allowed to clearly document the role the coastal areas had in the management of specific natural resources. It was also possible to analytically reconstruct the agricultural and forest landscape, defining both the trends and the chronologies of its exploitation that saw a significant boost from the middle of the 10th century.
2. With regard to the exploitation of mineral resources for Early Medieval coinage, the innovative archaeometric approach to the numismatic study has been of fundamental importance in acquiring data on the compositional characteristics of the coins and in particular, through the analysis of lead isotopes, on the provenance of this material. The results acquired provide data of great importance in the history of European coinage in the period between the 9th and 11th centuries.
3. A further important acquisition of the project was to have revaluated, from the 9th century, the role of public authority in organizing and managing extensive resource-rich territories. This acquisition was made possible by analyzing the landscapes of two contiguous royal estates in the Val di Pecora and the Val di Cornia.
4. The data collected by the project allowed to pinpoint the precise moment in which a significant change in the rural economy took place at the end of the 10th century and within a system of exchanges between city and countryside.
5. A further major point is the development and experimentation of a series of integrated methodologies that have offered the possibility of drawing up multidisciplinary work protocols that can also be employed in future research.
6. Through the new acquisitions of the project, the potential of the cultural heritage of the sample area, analysed in an integrated and environmental perspective, has been expanded and enriched. This new knowledge was shared with the local community and its institutional representatives through a series of dissemination initiatives and public archaeology events.
The majority of results listed above are expected to provide significant research advances over the current state of the art, in particular:
1. The identification of Early Medieval features in the anthropic landscape of the coastal plain challenges the established interpretative model, so far considered as a part of the history Italian Medieval archaeology.
2. A significant advance in research is having identified the timing of changes in the agricultural landscape and the actions involved (particularly fire clearing and land reclamation) to acquire, especially from the 10th century onward, new farming areas.
3. The first extensive excavation of the directional center of a royal court, contextualizing the site with the analysis of the anthropic, agricultural and natural landscape, is an absolute novelty in the current panorama of Italian and European research.
4. In relation to the study of the actions carried out by public authority, it is important to have identified in the Ottonian Age the moment of maximum influence after an earlier and less incisive phase during the Carolingian period.
5. the data acquired on the mining landscapes of the Colline Metallifere constitutes one of the most important examples that will become a future point of reference, especially for research on the Early Middle Ages, a period for which data in many European areas is still lacking.
6. An entirely new discovery concerns the places where the lead for coins, minted in the centre-north of Italy from the 10th century, was mined.
In addition to the significant scientific results, the nEU-Med project has also had a considerable impact on two other fronts:
(a) Research. Thanks to the funds obtained by the project, a number of young researchers have been involved in the research, guaranteeing high level educational pathways.
b) Social role of archaeology. Continuous contact with local authorities have allowed to begin a joint venture that has as its main objective both the dissemination of collected data (through meetings, conferences etc.) and the subsequent exploitation of results achieved through a common project of public fruition, aimed at a wide audience of non-specialists.
The study area and the sites mentioned in the text
The medieval salt works: excavation at the site of Carlappiano
The directional center of an early medieval royal court: excavations at Vetricella