Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Project title: Changing Concepts of Landscape between Mediterranean and Arid Regions in the Roman-Byzantine Levant
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Heide Frielinghaus, Prof. Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser
The etymology of the term landscape refers to a territory that was intentionally modified and used by man. In order to benefit from their surrounding environment, people in the past began to transform its natural conditions. A main trigger for these transformations was the demand for food: The introduction of certain plants and animals, together with the installations needed for their cultivation and keeping, influenced the appearance of a landscape. However, one and the same environment could have been designed and used in many ways at different times. The knowledge of its inhabitants about soil, climate, plants and animals, but also their cultural and religious affiliations – tradition, fasting rules and beliefs – led to the formation of various types of landscapes.
Using the example of the Roman-Byzantine Levant, the present doctoral project will explore, what people knew about their ecosystems and how they used their knowledge on the background of their specific cultural traditions, to modify their surroundings.
Even today the research area is characterised by a diversity of different ecosystems and cultural areas on a very small space. From the fertile Carmel Mountains in the north, to the arid regions of the Negev Desert, people had to face different ecological challenges. Furthermore, a cultural and religious patchwork of Jewish, Roman, Christian and Nomadic population, with different traditions, values and dietary habits influenced the composition of the area. To find out what these people knew about their environment and how this knowledge along with their cultural background let to the creation of different landscapes, two research approaches will be combined: First, the literary and iconographic evidence from the area will be reviewed for descriptions and illustrations of animals and plants, advices for animal husbandry and plant cultivation, as well as dietary rules. Second, the bioarchaeological record, including remains of animals and plants will be studied. The assemblages will be taken from settlements of different size, cultural background and environmental context. In this way, the choice of animals and plants, husbandry techniques and dietary preferences can be linked to cultural affiliation, demography and natural conditions. By conflating this data with the information from historical sources and iconographic representations, we will gain a better understanding of the knowledge and perception people had from their natural environment, which led to the creation of characteristic landscapes in the Levant.