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Study Area

The Sarno River basin situated in the south of the Somma-Vesuvius volcanic complex is a cultural landscape that is characterised by important anthropogenic activity since the Late Neolithic Period (4,000 BC). It stretches across an area of 210 km2 and is drained by the Sarno River and its tributaries. In the south and in the east it is flanked by the Apennine mountain range and in the west opens to the Tyrrhenian Sea (Fig. 1). Geographically the basin is part of the great graben structure of the Campanian Plain that is filled with volcanic, marine and alluvial deposits.

Within the Sarno River basin one comes across a nearly chronological appearance of archaeological presence above all because of the volcanic activity of Somma-Vesuvius that on one hand is the source of fertile soils and on the other hand causes devastating natural disasters. Thus, the Sarno River basin is exposed to distinct transformation processes continuously altering the landscape morphogenetically. From the scientific point of view the Plinian eruption of Somma-Vesuvius AD 79 is the most well-known example of such a natural disaster because it buried the ancient settlements of Herculaneum and Pompeii and is the first volcanic eruption in history that was described by a detailed eyewitness report in the letters of Pliny the Younger. Because of the abrupt and uniform burial of the whole Sarno River basin this eruption not only represents a caesura in the entire life of a region but also can be described as an “optimal conserving catastrophe”.

Since nowadays the Sarno River basin is one of the most densely populated and urbanized areas in Italy one comes across with a lot of constraints to comprehensively apply scientific methods over the entire basin. Consequently it is very important to create a well-balanced mixture of non-invasive or minimal-invasive scientific methods to achieve the requested results. Past geoarchaeological studies have developed different prospection methods and improved to standard. Thereby mechanical stratigraphical core drillings proved to be a successful method for geoarchaeological prospection and sampling.

Figure 1. Present-day digital elevation model (DEM) and fluvial network of the Sarno River plain. Letters indicate sites of interest (map S.Vogel).

Figure 1. Present-day digital elevation model (DEM) and fluvial network of the Sarno River plain. Letters indicate sites of interest (map S.Vogel).