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Until today the archaeological research activity of the Sarno River plain was particularly focused on urban settlements like Pompeii, Nuceria and Stabiae. However the cities cannot be considered in isolation from their hinterland in which they were geographically, politically and culturally embedded and from which they were economically dependent.

The objective of this interdisciplinary reasearch project is to investigate in a wide-range cross-section approach the interdependency of the physiographic conditions and the anthropogenic influence on the paleo-landscape before AD 79 and to reconstruct the dynamics of rural settlement of the Sarno River plain before AD 79 especially of the Roman period.

Representative of rural settlement and agricultural production and thus of the interactive human-environment relationship are the Roman farms (villae rusticae). They were distributed within the entire plain and of vital importance for the economy of Pompeii and the entire region. We hypothesize that the spatial distribution of villae rusticae depends on both (i) socio-economical conditions and (ii) environmental conditions before AD 79. Based on paleo-environmental characteristics such as topography and soils, the dynamic of the rural settlement process, the agricultural potential and use of the villae rusticae will be analysed to reconstruct the ancient cultural landscape of the Sarno River plain before AD 79.