The Emergence of Coupled Natural and Human Landscapes in the Western Mediterranean

The Mediterranean region has one of the longest histories of intensive human use of any part of the world. In some areas, this has led to severe environmental degradation; in other areas, productive landscapes of farms, pastures, towns, and natural areas have been maintained for thousands of years. This project will collect archeological data on ancient human land use, vegetation, and land form at four Neolithic sites in Spain and Italy. These data will guide the development of models of social and natural processes that will attempt to predict the long-term outcomes of alternative patterns of land use. The predictions will be checked against new knowledge of what has actually happened over centuries of use. Based on these checks, the models will be refined to simulate the feedbacks through which human decisions are affected by land cover and terrain, vegetation is affected by land use and landscape change, and the land surface and soils are affected by land cover and use.

By increasing our ability to learn from the past, this project will help the U.S. plan for more sustainable agriculture and development of towns and cities. To help disseminate results, the modeling software created will be available on line. The extensive educational component of the project comprises extensive training of undergraduate and graduate students including members of groups under-represented in science, a summer program to train K-12 teachers to use models of landscape change, and the incorporation of findings into courses at four universities.

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Four Neolithic sites in Spain and Italy