Sunday, 19 April 2015

Entering the last phase of the EthWAL project

The EthWAL project is entering its last phase. In these months we have worked on the data collected in Val Maudagna and Vallee de Freissinieres. Different methods and sources have been used to interpret these data. Spatial analysis has been applied to the distribution of object within the recorded pastoral sites, in order to identify activity areas and post-depositional processes. The evolution of historical pastoral landscapes has been studied using historical maps and documents, that enabled us to correlate this evolution to the social-economical processes occurring in the alpine arc during the last centuries.  Analysis of soils and sediments sampled within and outside the pastoral structures studied improved our understanding of the function of these structures, and provided a good test for assessing the reliability of these methods in the alpine context. Interviews and participant observation were also crucial for providing an ethnoarchaeological interpretation of the relationships between herders and their seasonal landscapes.
This research returned useful insights for the archaeology and history of pastoralism in the Alps. As suggested for other areas, the shaping of upland landscapes is a long and complex process, and the landscapes we currently experience in mountain areas are the consequence of this process. This inference is not only important for the reconstruction of the past, but also for planning the future of these landscapes. The results of this ethnoarchaeological project will help stakeholders to define new policies for the protection and promotion of western Alps.

The next and final step of the EthWAL project will be the conclusive dissemination of the results. Some papers have already been submitted to peer-review journals, and others will be submitted in the next months. The preliminary results have been presented to several international conferences: European Association of Archaeologists conference (EAA) 2013 and 2014, Computer Application and quantitative methods in Archaeology conference 2014 and 2015. Other results will be presented at the next EAA conference in Glasgow and at the "Current Ethnoarchaeology" conference in Rome. Local conferences will be also organized, in order to inform local communities of the outcomes of this project and of their perspectives.
Further updates will be therefore provided in the next months.

The meadows of Fangeas, near the Faravel plateau (Freissinieres, France)

The high pastures of Val della Brignola (Magliano Alpi, Italy)

Sunday, 26 October 2014

EthWAL - Managing fieldwork data

In these months we started working on the archaeological data collected during the summer. The first results are very interesting, and enable inferences to be made on the historical evolution of upland landscapes in the western Alps.
The hut of Sella Brignola, still used by the herder, turned to be more chronologically and functionally complex that expected. It can be considered a reliable example of the complex evolution of upland landscapes in this area (Italian Maritime Alps), triggered by social and economical transformations occurring in the nearby villages and in the lowlands.

Sella Brignola hut during the archaeological excavation
The archaeological investigation of the abandoned hut called Faravel 44 was important to understand the chronology and possible function of this structure and to assume the co-functionality (and contemporaneity) of the huts that surround it. Ethnographic interviews provided further information on these structures, their use and their abandonment.
Faravel 44 hut during the archaeological excavation
The presented data and inferences are still preliminary (further details will be available in January!). Nevertheless they suggest that the historical upland landscapes of the western Alps are the results of long- and short-time processes, that influenced the way human communities interacted with mountain environment and, consequently, the way these communities shaped their seasonal landscapes. This contribute to changing the perception we have of the mountain landscapes as pristine and immutable.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

EthWAL Fieldwork 2014

The 2014 fieldwork campaign of the EthWAL project has just ended. It was very productive, although the weather was sometimes quite challenging! A lot of data were collected, and will be processed and interpreted in the next months.
During this campaign two archaeological excavations were carried out in the two sample areas of this project: Val Maudagna (Piedmont, Italy) and Vallee de Freissinieres (Dept. des Hautes-Alpes, Parc National des Ecrins, France). In the Val Maudagna the archaeological investigations focused on a dry stone hut still used by the local herders. The site is called Sella Brignola, and is located in Val della Brignola, an upland valley in the Magliano Alpi municipality. An interesting stratigraphy was identified in the area of the fireplace, and it is expected to return significant data not only for defining the chronology of this structure, but also for inferring its exploitation and ancient function (if different from the current).
The upland double hut of Sella Brignola (Val Maudagna, Piedmont, Italy)
In the Vallee de Freissinieres, an abandoned dry stone hut have been excavated. It was named Faravel 44, and returned interesting data that enabled to recognize the phases of abandonment, post-abandonment and collapse of this structure. Historical documents and interviews with local herders and farmers enabled to set up an historical and anthropological framework that suggests why this structure (and other similar structures in the same area) was built, how it was exploited and why and when it was abandoned.
The Faravel 44 site (Vallee de Freissinieres, Dept. des Hautes-Alpes, France)
Further data will be provided by the analyses that will be undertaken later this year. These will give important insights to disentangle the complex history of the studied huts and the upland landscapes within which they were built.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Preliminary archive survey

New summer campaign of the EthWAL project. Preliminar work preceded the proper fieldwork, that will be carried out in July and August.
Historical documents and maps have been collected in different archives of the Piedmont (Italy).  17th, 18th and 19th century documents found in the archives of Magliano Alpi and Mondovi' (Cuneo province) provided interesting information about the management of the upland pastures of Val Maudagna. Old publications found in the Biblioteca Storica del Piemonte (Piedmont Historical Library) of Turin were also very useful for reconstructing the recent evolution of society and rural economy in the Alps of Piedmont.
Gianni Comino (veterinary and former mayor of Frabosa Sottana) provided some old photos of the seasonal pastoral sites ("gias") of Val Maudagna; Giovanni Rovere (technical office of the Magliano Alpi Municipality) gave significant information about the recent history of upland landscapes around Brignola and Raschera lakes (high Val Maudagna and Val Corsaglia).
As already mentioned, the fieldwork will start in July. Further updates in one month time!

Modovi' (Cuneo province): the historical center

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Forthcoming Fieldwork 2014

The data collected in summer and autumn have been analysed during the first months of 2014. Interesting (although preliminary) results are now available. Particular attention was given to the intra-site analysis of the two huts in the Val Maudagna (Italy). The detailed study of spatial patterns of objects inside these structures and the analysis of soil samples gave significant insights for archaeological interpretation of seasonal sites and of alpine sites in particular. Besides, historical documents, ethno-historical references and the data recorded during the landscape surveys in Val Maudagna (Italy) and Vallee de Freissinieres (France), opened new perspectives for the study of historical mountain alpine landscapes. These perspectives will be the main focus of the next fieldwork campaign.
Two pastoral huts of Val Maudagna during the topographic survey
The 2014 fieldwork campaign of the EthWAL project will start in few weeks time. New archaeological surveys will be carried out, in order to identify and record new structures in the two study areas. Local farmers and herders will be interviewed, in order to learn something more about the exploitation of the mountain environment during the last century. Furthermore, shovel-tests will be undertaken inside sample structures. The aim of these excavations will be: 1) understanding the function of these sites and whether (and how) this function changed in time; 2) identifying when these structures were built; 3) identifying when these structures were abandoned (and possibly why).
One of the sample sites selected in the Vallee de Freissinieres (France)
Updates regarding the different phases of the forthcoming fieldwork campaign will be posted in this blog. Remarks, questions, doubts, suggestion are warmly welcomed!!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Managing Fieldwork Data 3

The elaboration of the data collected during the summer fieldwork is going on.

Geostatistical methods have been applied to the intrasite spatial data of the seasonal dry-stone huts of the Val della Brignola (Val Maudagna, Cuneo province, Italy). They provided interesting results, that will help to understand whether or not the distribution of artifacts and ecofacts mirrors the actual spatial behaviour of herders that used (and still use) these structures. The first results and the preliminary interpretations will be presented in a seminar at the end of this month.

 Density maps (kernel intensity surface, 30 cm sd) of artifacts/ecofacts distribution on the internal surfaces of two huts of the Val della Brignola (Val Maudagna, Cuneo province, Italy)

The study of documents collected in French and Italian historical archives enabled to know something more about the exploitation of the alpine pastures in the Modern Age, and to find interesting information about the construction, the management and the use of alpine seasonal structures in the 18th and 19th century. The transformations occurred in the landscapes of the western Alps during the last three centuries have been related to the transition from the "old regime" to the contemporary socio-economical framework.

Besides, the analysis of the soil samples collected within the aforementioned huts has just begun.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Managing Fieldwork Data 2

In these autumn and winter months the EthWAL project is focused on managing the data collected during the summer fieldwork.
The locations of the recorded sites (both in the Vallée de Freissinières and Val Maudagna) have been linked to their attributes (dimension, preservation, etc.), and these data have been managed with two different GIS softwares: QGIS 1.8/GRASS 6.4 and ArchGIS 10. The interaction between the geographical position of sites and their carachteristics will enable to identify hidden patterns, that will shed new light on modern/current spatial strategies in the uplands. Interesting issues, for instance, are the process of abandonment of these sites, and the clustering/dispersion of sites in relation to their structural characteristics (dimension, shape, etc.).
The data collected during the topographic survey of three sites (pastoral huts) of Val Maudagna have been processed, with the fundamental collaboration of Federico Panighel. The second step will be the spatial analysis of artefacts scattered all over the internal surface of these sites. This analysis has just started, and it is carried out using R 3.0.2. The results will be useful to identify intra-site patterns suggesting activity areas and mobility within the huts (according to their function, dimension and forniture).

Two phases of the topographic survey in Val Maudagna (Cuneo province, Italy)