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When did the Anthropocene begin? A geoarchaeological approach to deciphering the consequences of human activity in pre-protohistoric times: selected cases from the Po Plain (northern Italy)

Abstract

The term Anthropocene generally indicates the period of the human history that began with the Industrial Revolution; from that time, the massive anthropogenic combustion of fossil fuels has led to an increasing impact on the climate system. However, over the last 8,000 years, ice cores have recorded an abnormal increase in greenhouse gases dating from the spread of agriculture in a vast region of the Old World. Indeed, this event may backdate the beginning of human influence on the Earth’s climate to the early Holocene. In a general perspective, this assumption is acceptable and in the present paper is argued through case studies from the Po Plain in northern Italy ranging from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age and dating to the Atlantic and the Subboreal periods. These cases will be compared with others of the same period distributed along the arid circum-Mediterranean region (Sahara and Near East). In any case, terrestrial archives (landscapes, soils, sediments), and the archaeological sites they contained, suggest a complex response of the pre-protohistoric civilizations to the constraints of climate change. During this long period, the anthropogenic control of the environment, while rising with time on a global scale, did not display a linear trend. But it occurred through an alternating series of successes and failures; in particular, the latter was determined by the inability to adapt to climate change and/or by the over-exploitation of natural resources beyond the limits of environmental sustainability.

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Acknowledgments

The author is deeply indebted to Maria Bernabò Brea, for allowing to access the excavations under her direction, to Cristina Anghinetti and Paola Mazzieri for providing figg. 1 and 3. The author also thanks Cesare Ravazzi, Andrea Zerboni and an anonymous referee for discussion suggestions which improved the quality of the paper. Emily B. Modrall reviewed the English of the manuscript.

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Cremaschi, M. When did the Anthropocene begin? A geoarchaeological approach to deciphering the consequences of human activity in pre-protohistoric times: selected cases from the Po Plain (northern Italy). Rend. Fis. Acc. Lincei 25, 101–112 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12210-013-0266-9

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Keywords

  • Anthropocene
  • Pre-protohistory
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Mediterranean basin
  • Climate change
  • Human impact