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On the origin of rural landscapes: Looking for physico-chemical fingerprints of historical agricultural practice in the Atlantic Basque Country (N Spain)
Science of the total environment. 2019, V. 681, p. 66-81
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Evolution and change in agricultural practice is a major factor in the codification of social relations and represents one of the main resources employed by human societies to establish a durable relationship with their environment. Using a multi-proxy integrated approach, this paper seeks to decipher the long-term dynamics that have shaped agricultural landscapes in the Basque Country (N Spain). Social and economic indicators (archival records, toponymy and oral sources) are used along with geological core sampling (geochemistry, magnetic, palynological and carpological analyses) to reconstruct a diachronic sequence of human settlement and agricultural management in the village of Aizarna over the last ~1500 years. The oldest records obtained refer to non-agricultural human activities dating back to the Roman period. Later on, traces of agricultural landscape-transformation can be divided into four main phases: 1) the onset of terraced agriculture, defined by the clearance and terracing of previous forested areas during the Early Middle Ages; 2) a Late Medieval reorganisation, with new terraces being (re)constructed close to dispersed farmsteads, linked to the emergence of the modern rural landscape; 3) a new model of intensive polyculture developed during the Modern period as a consequence of the introduction of new crops of American origin; and 4) the mechanisation and commercialisation of the agricultural production over the 20th century. These results provide a valuable pathway for the investigation of currently inhabited rural contexts, and offer, for the first time in this region, an overview on long-term landscape construction in the Atlantic areas of the Basque Country.
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