Ancient Deforestation Revisited
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The image of the classical Mediterranean environment of the Greeks and Romans had a formative influence on the art, literature, and historical perception of modern Europe and America. How closely does is this image congruent with the ancient environment as it in reality existed? In particular, how forested was the ancient Mediterranean world, was there deforestation, and if so, what were its effects? The consensus of historians, geographers, and other scholars from the mid-nineteenth century through the first three quarters of the twentieth century was that human activities had depleted the forests to a major extent and caused severe erosion. My research confirmed this general picture. Since then, revisionist historians have questioned these conclusions, maintaining instead that little environmental damage was done to forests and soils in ancient Greco-Roman times. In a reconsideration of the question, this paper looks at recent scientific work providing proxy evidence for the condition of forests at various times in ancient history. I look at three scientific methodologies, namely anthracology, palynology, and computer modeling. Each of these avenues of research offers support for the concept of forest change, both in abundance and species composition, and episodes of deforestation and erosion, and confirms my earlier work.
Keywordsdeforestation erosion Mediterranean landscapes Greco-Roman world forest history anthracology palynology landscape modeling
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