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Durham University

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Forlin, P. & Gerrard, C. M. (2017). The archaeology of earthquakes: The application of adaptive cycles to seismically-affected communities in late medieval Europe. Quaternary International 446: 95-108.

Author(s) from Durham


The study of archaeseismology (or ‘earthquake archaeology’) focuses mainly on the analysis of earthquakes at an archaeological scale, either in order to reconstruct the parameters of past seismic events (ie. their intensity, chronology, magnitude, epicentre, etc) or else to measure their impact on archaeological sites (Galadini et al., 2006; Ambraseys, 2006; Rodríguez-Pascua et al., 2011). This approach has its critics because archaeological methodologies such as excavation, field survey and remote sensing, or standard archaeological approaches to context recording, material culture and the integration of other sources of information such as history or ethnography are often laid aside (Jusseret, 2014). In short, archaeoseismology reflects far better the interests of palaeoseimologists than archaeologists (Caputo and Helly, 2008; Silva et al., 2011; Sintubin, 2011) and can be perceived as an ancillary discipline relegated to the gathering of historical seismic catalogues (Caputo and Helly, 2008; Guidoboni and Ebel, 2009).
Among the topics less well studied are those tactics elaborated by past societies to cope with the damage caused by earthquakes and to increase their preparedness for future seismic events. In this paper we apply resilience theory (Holling and Gunderson, 2002; Redman and Kinzig, 2003; Redman, 2005) which emphasises the chaîne opératoire (‘chain of actions’) put in place by medieval communities and we use a modern risk assessment workflow to assess the range of the strategies adopted (Smith and Petley, 2009). In particular, the importance of a multi-disciplinary perspective is underlined, one which integrates diverse sources of information ranging from archaeological to geological, historical, architectural, iconographical and ethnographical data. A unifying approach which combines evidence from the humanities and natural sciences in a common framework is fundamental in order to evaluate fully the diversity of responses adopted. Illustrative case studies are drawn from well-documented events for which fresh evidence has been gathered for the Armedea project (Archaeology of medieval earthquakes in Europe, 1000–1550 AD; Forlin et al., 2015).