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Alpine crossroads of ethnicity and archaeology

A closer look at western Alpine landscapes has revealed new ways to help preserve local culture and heritage.
Alpine crossroads of ethnicity and archaeology
Alpine communities in Europe are shaped in part by their local historical and archaeological elements, representing a complex dynamic between life and its environment. The EU-funded project ETHWAL (Ethnoarchaeology of western Alpine upland landscapes: Italian and French case studies) worked on exploring this dynamic in different ways.

It developed an ethnoarchaeological understanding of how communities exploit these areas in terms of archaeological mountain landscapes in an effort to protect structures and encourage seasonal rural activities. The project also worked on a geographic information system (GIS)-based ethnoarchaeological model that could be used for different anthropological and archaeological case studies.

To achieve its aims, the project team combined ethnoarchaeological and ethnohistorical approaches, landscape archaeology, spatial analysis and archaeological science. It outlined a new strategy to interpret human-environment interaction in the western Alps, specifically the Vallée de Freissinières in France and the Val Maudagna in Italy.

Work on the ground involved lipid analysis, photogrammetry, soil analysis and X-ray fluorescence with the aim of collecting in-depth archaeological, ethnographic and historical data. The project team then analysed the data with the support of statistical calculations and GISs.

Through its work, ETHWAL outlined the triggers of change in the historical upland landscapes of the western Alps, noting that historical processes affected human presence more than environmental constraints. It used ethnoarchaeological and ethnohistorical data to promote the protection and management of structures in the studied areas. In addition, the team evaluated the preservation of intra-site activity areas in relation to the seasons.

The new observations on the processes related to the formation and transformation of upland landscapes in the Alps have helped improve science's understanding of landscape transformation. This is very useful for advancing landscape archaeology, landscape history and human ecology, offering as well one of the few available applications of spatial analysis in an ethnoarchaeological context.

All project results have been shared with different stakeholders such as local communities and policymakers to help advance management strategies related to Alpine landscapes. New policies could emerge from this study to support the preservation of cultural heritage and identity in the region.

Related information


Alpine, archaeology, upland landscapes, ethnohistorical, spatial analysis
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