Human-environment dynamics across the Bronze Age in northern Italy: method testing and multi-proxy approaches

Besides technological innovations and new typological features, the transition into the Bronze Age in northern Italy is marked by the adoption of distinctive settlement strategies. Prominent differences with previous periods are represented not only by higher numbers and density of settlements, but also by a widespread preference for wetland areas. These phenomena are particularly evident in the Lake Garda region, where a rising number of lacustrine pile-dwelling settlements is documented since the Bronze Age onset (approximately 4150 years cal. BP). The pile-dwelling phenomenon lasted approximately for one millennium, approximately until 3150 years cal. BP). At the end of the Late Bronze Age, this settlement system collapsed, leaving the area largely depopulated. Widespread settlement abandonment did not affect only the surroundings of Lake Garda. In the neighboring central Po Plain, a dense network of riverine villages developed since approximately 3500 years cal. BP. These moat-and-rampart villages, locally termed “terramare”, abruptly disappeared together with the last pile dwellings. The reasons behind the rise and demise of these extensive lacustrine and riverine settlement networks remain currently open for discussion. Palaeoecological studies conducted in the area focused mostly on developing qualitative land-use narratives for the Bronze Age. As a result, multiple questions remain to be addressed concerning the determination of local climate trajectories. Similarly, quantitative land-cover approaches are left largely unexplored. Given these premises, this project aims at improving the available knowledge concerning both the role of climate and land use dynamics in northern Italy across the Bronze Age and neighboring periods, with a special focus on the pile-dwelling phenomenon in the southern Lake Garda region. The results are presented in the form of a cumulative dissertation composed of three published papers. The first of these three contributions focuses on the sedimentary record of Bande di Cavriana, a drained wetland in the Lake Garda area. Here, palynological and geochemical analysis provided new evidences that the rise of the Bronze Age pile-dwelling phenomenon occurred under a rapidly changing climate. The second paper focuses on the collapse of Bronze Age settlement networks. Pollen-based temperature and precipitation models obtained from Northern Italian sites depict increasingly arid conditions towards the end of the Bronze Age. This reconstruction is in agreement with the current archaeological narrative, which attributes the end of the central Po Plain settlement networks to a combination of landscape overexploitation and to the emergence of unsuitable climatic conditions. The third contribution serves primarily a methodological role within this project. It provided the opportunity to test extensively a landscape reconstruction algorithm based on pollen data and remote sensing. The application of this method to pollen sequences from Lake Garda provided a very first quantitative reconstruction of land cover changes across the Copper Age- Bronze Age transition, in connection with the establishment of the first pile-dwelling settlements.


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