THE MESSAGE FROM THE URBAN SEDIMENTARY ARCHIVES: EXAMPLES FROM THE ROMAN PISA-SAN ROSSORE (CENTRAL ITALY) AND PRE-ISLAMIC SUMHURAM (SOUTHERN OMAN) ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES

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Marco Benvenuti
Marta Mariotti-Lippi
Pasquino Pallecchi

Abstract

In this paper we summarize and compare results of previous geoarchaeological studies on urban environments carried out by the authors in Central Italy (Pisa-San Rossore) and Southern Oman (Sumhuram). The aim is exploring the strategy of human adaptation to coastal settings selected for founding still existing (Pisa) or vanished (Sumhuram) urban centres, during the climate warming of the Roman Age. Under warm climatic conditions, despite their distant locations, these urban areas were both devoted to commercial exchanges. The Pisa-San Rossore was a suitable fluvial wharf based on a pre-existing channel and serving the Roman Pisa, whereas Sumhuram was a pre-Arabic strategic trading outpost founded on the rocky coast facing the Gulf of Aden by people coming from the southern Yemen. The stratigraphic, sedimentologic and palynologic data collected in the two sites allowed the identification of the effects of a warm climate, expressed by hydrological events. At Pisa-San Rossore these were recurring catastrophic overbank floods generated by channel instability of the Arno River adjacent to the wharf area. Despite the high hydraulic hazard, the local people exploited the site up to its definitive siltation, a behaviour hinting to resilience and calculated risk with respect to the economic advantage. At Sumhuram, an enhanced monsoon circulation, over southern Oman, between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D., sustained a moisture higher than in preceding and following phases of town existence. This condition favoured the maximum commercial and cultural flourishment of the town. The two case studies indicate that geoarchaeology is a suitable tool for assessing the strategy of resilience and exploitation of the land surface by humans across rapid environmental changes as those occurring nowadays and expected in the near future. The value of the knowledge acquired through a geoarchaeological approach goes beyond the reconstruction of ancient human patterns; it provides contributions for establishing present and future sustainable relations between Humanity and the Earth learning from the past. Keywords: Rome (Italy), urban geomorphology, urban landscape, Tiber River, Aqua Mariana, Nodicus River.

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