Ammerman on Dynamic Geography in Acconia, Italy

Zimmer speaks of free speech as a key component to higher education. 

Zimmer speaks of free speech as a key component to higher education. 

Students, faculty and community members gathered in the the Africana, Latin American, Asian American and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center for Dr. Albert Ammerman’s presentation on the dynamic landscapes of Acconia, Italy. Ammerman, a research professor at Colgate, expounded upon nearly 30 years of research on landscapes of the region of Acconia in southern Italy.

Ammerman’s study was one of the longest successful longitudinal studies of landscapes ever. Beginning in 1980, Ammerman and his colleagues collected data in nine-year intervals. His study was focused on Piana di Curinga, a five acre Neolithic settlement on Acconia’s central dune. Piana di Curinga was one of the Mediterranean’s first farming regions.

Ammerman began the talk by showing images of the area at different points in time, citing dramatic changes in greenery and landscape. Aerial photographs were used throughout the study to compare and note changes in the landscape over time. From these photographs, Ammerman and his team were able to create detailed maps of the different types of agriculture in the region. These maps traced drastic shifts in topography as areas once devoted to grazing, olive trees and cereal crops became fields of strawberries and citrus trees.

At the beginning of the study, Piana di Curinga was one of the poorest parts of Italy. The area was largely barren and sparsely populated. By 1992, the once hilly landscape was dramatically leveled and covered with fruit trees, orange groves and strawberry fields. Ammerman claimed that these changes were due in large part to mandates by Italy and the European Union. Over the course of 27 years, there was a three-fold increase in strawberry fields.

The strawberry industry’s rapid expansion bolstered the economy, changing the lives of once poor Acconian farmers. Today, the area has modernized: farmers even use refrigerated trucks for the transportation and delivery of strawberries.

Ammerman then illustrated how dynamic landscapes can be, especially in the case of Acconia.

“Archaeologists have conceptualized landscape as a static entity,” Ammerman said. “Therefore, archaeological research is typically conducted in a single visit to a site.”

Ammerman took a more ecological approach to his research, collecting data over multiple years.

The idea of a dynamic landscape was first introduced by George Perkins Marsh in his 1864 book, “Man and Nature.” Ammerman noted that Marsh describes the earth as modified by human actions, specifically focusing on the relationship between land use and land change and decay in classical Mediterranean civilizations like Ancient Rome. However, Ammerman explained, Marsh’s observations were based strictly on qualitative data. Ammerman’s quantitative research provides a more precise account of similar patterns of human landscape modification in Acconia.  

“Due to constant human modification of the earth, this field of research is irreproducible,” Ammerman said.

Landscape transformations are dynamic and far-reaching; an area’s economic, social and political circumstances directly affect and are directly affected by topographic changes.

Ammerman emphasized the importance of time’s relationship with land with regard to archaeology.

“The world is not the Garden of Eden. Landscapes are not fixed,” Ammerman said.

He underscored the relationship between time, human activity and change. Ammerman noted that, since landscapes are continually changing, an in-depth understanding of an area’s ecology is necessary to understand its archaeology.

Sophomore Kailey Tobin disclosed that, prior to Ammerman’s talk, she had not heard of this discipline.

“I’ve never thought about the interaction between changing landscapes and intentional human behavior before,” Tobin said.

Junior Marisa Chiodo appreciated the holistic analysis of this geographical study.

“I found it interesting how [Ammerman] took an interdisciplinary approach, typing archaeology into environmental studies,” Chiodo said.