Research highlight

Geoscience: Soil mapping technique reveals secrets of medieval landscapes

Scientific Reports

March 21, 2013

A technique that combines a high-resolution geophysical soil survey with archaeological information has been used to create a detailed 3D reconstruction of a previously unknown reclaimed medieval wetland in Belgium. The approach, which requires only minimal invasive research, can help expand our knowledge of the historical land use that shaped a large part of present-day Europe.

When studying past human responses to changing environmental and socio-economic conditions, researchers are often faced with scarce documentary and archaeological information. One example of historical human-landscape interaction is the reclamation of wetlands and forest in the historical County of Flanders in Belgium between the 11th and 15th centuries, to meet the demands of emerging cities, such as Ghent and Bruges.

Philippe De Smedt and colleagues used an electromagnetic induction (EMI) sensor to map the properties of multiple soil volumes simultaneously, which enabled them to reconstruct in 3D the archaeological and natural landscape variations of a medieval wetland in Flanders. The study area included the site of a former abbey, which was abandoned in 1578 due to military struggles and successive floods. The EMI sensor data reveal new insights into the abbey’s extensive land reclamation strategy during the Middle Ages by allowing the reconstruction of a previously unknown designed landscape from which the monks directed their cultivation of the surrounding area. The research indicates that this technique could represent a more robust way of studying complex historical landscapes.

doi: 10.1038/srep01517

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