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The socio-cultural profile of hazards. Disaster Archaeology
and the risk assessment of past catastrophic events

Amanda Laoupi

Centre for the Assessment of Natural Hazards and Proactive Planning

(National Technical University of Athens)(NTUA), GREECE

Natural and man-induced hazards play an active role in the morphology and evolution of past, present and.. future ecosystems, both natural and human. They happen in periodical or chaotic patterns, varying in frequency, magnitude and functional structure. They may have also several impacts on the evolution of human civilization (biological, ecological, environmental, socio-economic, political, technological, geographical, ideological and cultural results) that are not always clearly defined, even by the victims or the generations following the event. These effects could be hidden in the 'archaeological landscapes', due to diverse parameters. Furthermore, many 'entities', for example the vulnerability of ancient societies to environmental or human-made risks, and their adaptation process to the 'unfamiliar landscapes' formed after natural disasters are not measurable as other proxy data can be be (e.g. palaeoclimatic, hydrogeological, palaeoanthropological) .

Considering the above-mentioned parameters, this paper deals with : a) the definition of a methodological framework consistent with the needs and scope of Disaster Archaeology, b) the application of risk analysis on hazardous phenomena and case studies from Pleistocene to 19th cent. A.C.E, c) the adoption of pivotal axes by contemporary mitigation plans and risk management policies (e.g. landscape evolution, human behavioral patterns, investment choices and proactive planning of past societies) and d) the deep understanding of collective shock response, its mechanism and dynamics via Psychopathology.
This attempt could result in various methodological tools and analytical parameters. The formation of disaster sequences can highlight the temporal and spatial distribution of past hazards, the elaboration of a d-base with this kind of information can enrich the flexibility of adopted scenarios and the categorization of affected targets (e.g. human lives, ecosystems' equilibrium, economic losses, products and services, artifacts, cultural identity, demographical stability, aesthetic values) can differentiate the risk assessment efforts. Finally, the analysis of the socio-cultural profile of hazardous phenomena can increase the potential power of human collaboration and good will towards serving common goals.

KEYWORDS : cultural landscapes, methodology of Disaster Archaeology, markers of past disasters, disaster psychopathology


1.1 General approach
Disaster Archaeology, an upcoming interdisciplinary science, emerges and establishes itself as a uniquely significant part of the fields that deal with hazards, risk management, prevention policies and mitigation plans all over the world. Increasing possibilities of multifarious and costly natural and human-induced disasters force both civil and private sectors to move deeply and heavily into broader approaches of such events.

Considering that the functions and the results of disasters, the human response to hazards and the carrying capacity of natural and human ecosystems do not vary considerably in space and time, as several constants exist in Nature and Society, modern scientists can detect the spatial and temporal distribution of hazards. But firstly, we must define clearly the aims, the scope, the methodology and the applications of this discipline, which can provide modern researchers with a huge spectrum of information concerning hazards and disasters of the past.

Generally speaking, Archaeology of Natural Disasters (Torrence & Grattan, 2002 ; World, 2002; Byrne, 1997; Blaikie et al., 1994): a) defines the identity, the impact and the dynamics of natural hazards into the evolution of human civilization, b) tries to find and analyze the kinds, frequency and magnitude of natural hazards that are hidden in the 'archaeological landscapes', c) searches for the adaptation process in past human societies and the 'unfamiliar landscapes' formed after natural disasters.

The 'reconstruction' of the natural and cultural landscapes of the past that were 'used' and modified by humans, is a vital priority. By studying the natural, built and socio-economic environments of the past within the integrated approach of human ecosystems, we can distinguish three main categories (resources, processes , effects), three pivotal axes (A: flora, fauna, human beings, minerals, water, land, air, etc.; B: buildings, housing, communication system, water supply, etc.; C: human activities, education, health, arts and culture, economic activities, heritage, lifestyles in general) and three groups of archaeological information (ecofacts, artefacts, mentifacts).

Nevertheless, the natural hazards could happen in chaotic patterns, varying in frequency, magnitude or functional structure. They may also have several impacts on the evolution of human civilization (biological, ecological, environmental, socio-economic, political, technological, geographical and cultural results) that are not always clearly defined, even by the victims or the generations following the event. Moreover, these effects could be hidden in the 'archaeological landscapes', due to diverse parameters (e.g. natural phenomena that constantly change the landscape and falsify the evidence, applied techniques and methods concerning the retrieval of information). Finally, many 'entities', for example the vulnerability of ancient societies to environmental or human-made risks, and their adaptation process to the 'unfamiliar landscapes' formed after natural disasters are not measurable as other proxy data can be (paleoclimatic, hydrogeological, paleoantrhopological e.t.c.) ..

On the other hand, when archaeologists strike a destruction level during their excavational work, they may be dealing with global environmental events and cultural fractures, economic instabilities and movement of peoples, religious revival and suppression or revolutionary regimes, despair and major death (de Grazia 1984). But this is a rather rare coincidence. What about local events or other forms of information, such as the artistic representations, written sources of past events, indirect testimonies derived from different communicative subsystems (e.g. language, technology, warfare, conflicts) and the huge pool of beliefs (oral traditions, religious rituals, mystical knowledge, ceremonies and daily practices) ?

1.2 Issues of Terminology

Undoubtedly, the basic communicative tool in the cases of multidisciplinary research is the use of terms, as special or technical words or expressions vary from discipline to discipline, from country to country or from decade to decade. So, the first step to be made is to define the main terms that are used by Disaster Archaeology and a plethora of other scientific fields dealing with disaster matters.

A. Natural Events and Human Societies

i. Natural Phenomena
Earthquakes, typhoons, torrential rainfalls and volcanic eruptions are among the environmental activity that occur in Nature, independently of the human presence on Earth, even if they are considered as negative inputs of ecosystems' stability.

ii. Natural Hazards
Unexpected or uncontrolled / inevitable natural event of unusual magnitude, that threatens the life and activities of humans and has some special characteristics : a) reforms the natural and cultural landscapes, b) intensifies the degradation's processes, especially when human factors play a prominent role, c) may provoke a broad spectrum of losses within human society ( ; ; Burton et al., 1978). Other factors and human-induced hazardous events (e.g. wars, famine, desertification, pollution and contamination) are also included in this category.

iii. Vulnerability
Situation derived from a number of parameters (natural, environmental, socio-economic, cultural, technological), which transform and influence the response of human societies to hazards, or degree of loss resulting from a potentially damaging phenomenon.

iv. Exposure to hazards
All the kind of 'items' / values (human lives, material goods, services, social structures, development rates) that are more exposed to hazards.
v. Risk = hazard x vulnerability x exposure
Expected losses (lives, injuries, property damage and economic activity) due to a particular hazard for a given area and reference period.

B. Impacts

i. Disaster
Catastrophic event that causes a lot of casualties, injuries and deaths, destruction of human properties, and disturbs ecosystems' stability. It may be of natural / environmental, human-induced / technological or 'exoterrestrial' origin. "Disaster" is defined in many ways. The word is derived from the Latin dis (against) and astrum (stars) , hence, 'the stars are evil'..

ii. Disaster-induced Collapse of Human Ecosystems
Long- interval event in human history, both environmental and cultural. The end of the 13th cent. B.C. and the collapse of Eastern Mediterranean civilizations is included among them.

iii. Pollution
The presence of pollutants (substances, noise, radiation, e.t.c.) in the environment in such a quantity, concentration or duration, that may cause harm on human health, on the proliferation of living organisms and on the equilibrium of ecosystems, making the environment unfit to human uses.

iv. Contamination
Any kind of pollution that is characterized by pathogens or markers testifying their presence. Any kind of undesirable or dangerous changes in the physical, chemical and biological properties of the air, ground and water, that may threaten the survival of any form of life on Earth.

v. Degradation
Negative impact of pollution on the ecological equilibrium, the quality of life, the salvage of cultural heritage and the aesthetic values of human communities.

C. Environmental Entities

i. Ecosystem
The totality of abiotic and biotic elements and parameters within the environment, that exist in a given geographical area and have a strong relation to each other. Any natural ecosystem which is directly or indirectly related to the human presence is called human ecosystem.

ii. Environment
The environment may be distinguished into : Real / objective and Perceived. The first can be further analyzed into : a) Geographical = the physical and biological landscape within which humans live and act, b) Operational = the space that can provide food and other sources for the survival of the humans and c) Modified = the area which shows the visible 'fingerprints' of human action. Moreover, the Perceived Environment includes the parts of Geographical and Operational Environment, visible or not, that human society knows about and make decisions out of them (Butzer,1982).

iii. Landscape
The 'visualization' of abiotic and biotic elements and parameters within the environment, that exist in a given geographical area and have a strong relation to each other, the natural place of ecosystem's expression, an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and / or human factors (Palermo Declaration, 14 - 16 November 2003 ; European Convention, 2000).

D. Cultural Heritage

As cultural heritage can be assigned any kind of evidence related to human action, any 'product' of human creativeness and expression, widely accepted for its scientific, historic, artistic and anthropological value. On the other hand, natural landscapes are also included in the lists of patrimony objects that must be protected. Issues of cultural heritage's vulnerability to natural and human-induced hazards are primely examined by Rescue / Salvage / Conservation Archaeology, a scientific field which shares several characteristics with Disaster Archaeology. Terms as integrated conservation and protection management, preservation, consolidation, anastylosis, reconstruction, restoration reflect the repeated human attempts, since Antiquity, to protect and exploit the cultural landscapes of the past (e.g. Breen & Forsythe, 2001; Brandt & Hassan, 2000; Cleere (ed.), 1984).

Apart from the Greek constitutional framework, international meetings can provide all the terms needed for further analysis , e.g. UNESCO General Conference 17 October - 21 November 1972, Paris (Convention fro the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage) & UNIDROIT 1995 Convention, International Committee for the Management of Archaeological Heritage (ICAHM) 9th General Assembly 1990, Lausanne (Charter on the Protection and Management of the Archaeological Heritage) , the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention - 16 November 1994, ICOMOS Charter 1990 (Charter for the Protection and Management of the Archaeological Heritage), ICOMOS 11th General Assembly, 9 October 1996, Sofia Bulgaria (Charter on the Protection and Management of Underwater Cultural Heritage), International Committee on the Underwater Cultural Heritage (ICUCH), November 1991 & UNESCO / DOLAS Convention, European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage, 16 January 1992, Valletta , NATURA 2000 network, Directive 92/43/EEC, Rio Convention 1992 e.t.c.

i. Natural Landscapes
Natural features (physical or biological formations), geological and physiographical formations, natural sites and protected natural areas (marine parks, national parks, aesthetic forests, protected monuments of nature, game reserves and hunting reserves, eco-development areas), along with the four types of biodiversity (genetic, species, habitat, landscape), are unified under the umbrella of this category.

ii. Cultural Landscapes
Monuments, caves of archaeological interest, groups of buildings, archaeological sites (open air areas, subterranean, submarine or coastal), mobile objects, archival material, scientific works, paleontological & paleoanthropological remains, industrial sites and landscapes of memory (e.g. languages, oral traditions, sacred and mythical landscapes), museums and collections, all are prone to diverse hazards, the impacts of which can demand extremely expensive restoration programmes.

iii. Archaeological Systems
Any kind of information which is revealed today and concerns the human life in the past, refers either to the past human ecosystems or the archaeological landscapes. The structure of the later is narrower than this of the former, because archaeological landscapes can be 'frozen' in time (e.g. the fossil landscapes of Akrotiri and Pompei / Herculaneum) and may represent only some functions and choices of the society that are registered on the environment in specific 'coordinates' (tempo, locales) or reflect the cultural 'universe' of a human group during a specific period of time. On the contrary, past human ecosystems embrace all the parameters, natural and cultural, that may leave various remains (ecofacts, artefacts & mentifacts) and interrelate to each other constantly. This point of view reinforces us to study the whole spectrum of natural and cultural phenomena, requiring an apt knowledge ranging from our solar system and Space weather to the microcosm of living cells, from the climax of historical events to the vast periods of geological time . Thus, an archaeological system should include the remains of human civilizations and the environmental setting, in which hazards have played a significant role since the very beginning of human history (Ferran Dincauze, 2000; Ashmore & Knapp (eds), 1999; Hirsch & O' Hanlon (eds),1995; Schama, 1995); Wagstaff (ed.), 1987; Dalton (ed.), 1975).

1.3 The contributions of various scientific fields

Disaster Archaeology utilizes the contributions of a wide area of scientific fields, in order to study and interpret the remains of ancient human cultures. Its objectives combine scientific and humanistic goals, including the identification and analysis of archaeological systems to illuminate the long-forgotten cultural processes that created them. As a multidisciplinary enterprise, Disaster Archaeology includes attempts to reconstruct the full spectrum of elements composing a vanished society, its economy, commerce, political organization, religious beliefs, and mythology, before combining the existing evidence with complex information retrieved by other sciences, because the environmental setting is equally important when we study past catastrophic events.

A great number of fields provide D.A. with the needed information (Geoarchaeology, Volcanology, Archaeoseismology, Glaciology, Archaeoastronomy, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoceanography, Palaeohydrology, Paleontology, Palaeoanthropology, Palaeodemography, Palaeopathology, Palaeoecology, Archaeozoology, Archaeobotany, Palaeogeography, Palaeomagnetism, Tree-ring Dating). Respectively, research on archaeological topics may contribute to the study of past disasters (Social / Behavioral Archaeology, Landscape & Environmental Archaeology, Astroarchaeology & Astromythology, Geomythology, Archaeometry, Study of ancient technologies, Study of communication systems - e.g. languages, commercial routes, alliances & wars, exchange patterns, systems of investment & imposition, religions, economies - , Study of ancient sources of information - e.g. analysis of written texts, artistic representations, ceremonies & rites, beliefs & oral traditions). Despite their undoubted and valuable help, the final evaluation of information remains a strictly archaeoenvironmental business.

1.4 Main methodological tools

Changes, either expressed as periodical phenomena with moderate character or as sudden, violent, and highly dangerous events, transform the natural ecosystems, rebuild the landscapes and forge new dynamics in human societies, by influencing the demographic stability, the socio-economic profile, the cultural trends and many investment strategies. There is a quite promising and thought provoking approach of past disasters as a whole, within the framework of an holistic analysis, according to which we define every possible sphere of interaction between the event and its complications (de Grazia, 2005). The interdependence among these elements could be viewed through the lenses of the Geosphere, Astrosphere, Electrosphere and Plasmasphere, Atmosphere, Ecosphere and Biosphere, Theosphere, Mythosphere, Anthroposphere, Psychosphere, Chronosphere, e.t.c.

All the same, the steps needed to understand the functional structure of hazards, should be grouped into four nuclei :

A. Change - Periodicity

As natural phenomenon, change can be: a) cyclical , encompassing the rythmically repeated events (e.g. the seasons of the year, day and night, tide), b) progressive, when the process lasts for many centuries exceeding the lifespan of man and few generations ahead (e.g. the formation of icesheets or the erosion of the coasts) and c) irregular or chaotic (e.g. storms, volcanic eruptions, reappearance of diseases).

As cultural phenomenon, change can be distinguished into three levels: a) the adaptive adjustments (e.g. the phases during Classical Period), b) the adaptive modification (e.g. the boundary between Classical and Hellenistic Era) and c) the adaptive transformation (e.g. the starting point of Industrial Epoch in western societies).

Even if the controversial concept of change within Nature and Society was always present in the works of intellectual persons since early Antiquity, modern scholars have more flexible and interdisciplinary tools to register the multiple faces of past changes in the archaeoenvironments (Moseley, 1997; Harris & Thomas (eds), 1991; Einsele (eds), 1991; Butzer, 1982).

B. Sequences - Layers - Stratigraphies

The natural ecosystems provide scientists with quite helpful information, not always easily spotted and retrieved, though. The sequences of events, which embrace a huge spectrum of space and time being periodically or chaotically repeated, are imprinted on a series of elements, structures and markers that share a common approach, the main concept of stratigraphy(Physical Stratigraphy, Lithostratigraphy, Chronostratigraphy, Biostratigraphy / Ecostratigraphy, Chemostratigraphy / Geochemical Stratigraphy, Seismic Stratigraphy, Cyclostratigraphy, Tephrostratigraphy, Bog Stratigraphy, Magnetostratigraphy). This concept, along with Taphonomy, is also the main methodological tool of archaeological investigations referring to the human ecosystems of the past and their 'fingerprint on the archive of the Earth'.
Furthermore, the concept of accretion, meaning the visible or measurable transformation (in quality, quantity, context or composition) of material due to geological, biochemical and other processes, for example the formation of annual Ice-Layers, various Lacustrine Deposits and Geological Formations (e.g. soil formation / pedogenesis & Loess ), Tree-rings, Deep-Sea Sediments / Sapropels, Coral Bands and Algal Stromatolites, has enriched the worldwide scientific efforts with extremely resourceful data banks .

In addition, T-GIS (Temporal Geographic Information System) seems to share some common functional characteristics not only with hazard research, but also with archaeological entities, even the Catastrophist Mythology itself (Laoupi, 2005). Most information embraced by the myths is spatial and temporal in nature, like the archaeological entities do, therefore, especially suited to the basic principles of GIS (Westcott & Brandon, 2000; Koussoulakou & Stylianidis, 1999; Peuquet, 1994; Langran,1992; Allen et al., 1990). Moreover, this challenging tool provides a complete lineage of elements, layers, sets and features concerning disaster topics, including the evolution of catastrophic phenomena over time and their state at any moment of human history. Respectively, often the use of a GIS platform in Cognitive Archaeology and Anthropology (see is wisely based on the acceptance that mythology is a historic source for archaeological research. Its use for the interpretation of mythological and geographical data aims at the deeper understanding of the mechanisms of continuity in a holistic and unified way. Modern technologies may be promising enough to provide both the practical framework and the assessment tools and strategies for the reevaluation of ancient knowledge.

Finally, a very promising tool is the comparative study of destruction layers all over the world, either as archaeological stratigraphic units or as a features of geological sequences. Of course, there is a necessity for undertaking long field seasons, working on laboratory's data evaluation, collecting evidence from memory institutions and communicating with specialists, until we reach high level of synchronized well-explained sequences.

C. Criteria of disaster analysis

The initial stages of disaster analysis can be found in the texts of ancient writers (e.g. Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, presocratic philosophers, Hippocrates, Thucydides, tragic poets, Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, et al.), where a serious attempt to categorize the causes of natural and man-induced changes both in the environment and human societies, is easily recognizable (de Romilly, 1977).

Apart from studying the causes of societal and environmental collapse in the civilizations of the past (Bintliff, 2002; Fagan, 2000; MacGuire et al, 2000; Schoch & Aquinas, 1999; Dalfes et al., 1997; La Violette, 1997; Glantz, 1994; Hughes, 1994; Chambers, 1993; Drews, 1992; Kingston, 1988; Mandelkehr, 1988 & 1987; de Grazia, 1984; Moore et. al., 1984; de Grazia, 1983; Mandelkehr, 1983; Bintliff & Van Zeist, 1982; de Grazia, 1981; Wigley et al., 1981; Hughes, 1975; de Santillana & von Dechend, 1969; Carpenter, 1966; Velikovsky, 1955 & 1950), modern approaches differentiate, also, the criteria of disaster analysis. When refering to ecological degradation, we speak about a number of indeces, such as the catastrophe of the biotopes, the exhaustion of natural resources, excessive mass of waste, various forms of pollution, overexploitation of the environment, degradation of life's quality, expenses for ecological 'rehabilitation', e.t.c. (Harris & Thomas, 1991; Hern, 1979). When referring to societal transformations, we speak about a number of parameters, such as the restriction of social differentiations, minor specialization - economic, professional, territorial-, fainter control executed by central authorities, looser administrative bonds, lesser investment on the cultural subsystems - monumental architecture, literature, artistic works-, minor information's flow through several human groups between the centre and the periphery, looser redistributive network of resources, minor cooperation among people, minor territorial sovereignty (Torrence & Grattan (eds), 2002; Tainter, 1988).

So, the vulnerability to natural and human-induced hazards is the first step before disaster manifestation, and includes three interdependent parameters (exposure to stress, high potential risks and limited coping capacity) referring both to the environmental and cultural status of past human ecosystems.

D. Indices - markers - proxy data of past disasters in archaeoenvironments

Besides the afore-mentioned methodological framework, the author of this paper suggests also a more thoroughly organized approach and evaluation of disaster information, which may be of varied origin. This information should be formed in five main groups. The four of them (astrophysical, geological, palaeontological, biochemical - physical) are beyond the limits of this presentation. However, the fifth (archaeological - philological and historic- artistic - mythological) deserves special mention, because past disasters have either been totally ignored by the majority of archaeologists or used in an uncritical way without being related to cultural change. The catalogue is not exhaustive, only some outstanding examples are given to facilitate a further discussion:

a) Destruction layers may preserve evidence of human occupation and artefacts from subsequent damage and be unearthed almost intact. Towns like Akrotiri (Cycladic island of Santorini), Pompeii and Herculaneum (Italian peninsula), were rapidly engulfed in voluminous tephra and pyroclastic ejecta. Besides the inescapable surface exposure and degradation, the buildings and artwork were buried in their original context, so their spacial and functional relationships remained largely undisturbed. The thick layer of reddish ash belonging to Troia IIg is also a well-known example of archaeological evidence related to a disaster event sometime in the past (de Grazia, 1984). Respectively, other key examples are the shipwrecks laid in anaerobic environments (e.g. on the floor of Black Sea) and sites covered by sand after flooding (e.g. Itatsuke, Yayoi - Japan, ca 3rd cent. B.C.).

b) Testimonies from ancient scribes may be proved excellent sources of information. Observations, comments, descriptions and any other form of indirect information may help in the dating, evaluation or even identification of past events. Volcanic eruptions (e.g. the plinian eruption of Vesuvius of A.D. 79 , the pre-Krakatau eruption of A.D. 535), epidemics (e.g. the Athenian plague during the first years of Peloponnesian War or the Justinian plague of the 6th cent. A.C.E, the burst of the Black Death or syphilis' expansion over Europe), earthquakes, soil liquefaction, tsunami and landslides (e.g. the famous Helike case of Classical Era in N. Peloponnesus, other seismic events in ancient circum-mediterranean area) and extraterrestrial events and impacts (e.g. the Supernova explosion of A.D. 1054 or various sky events described by the Chinese archaeoastronomers), all were covered by the ancient 'disaster reporters' . Respectively, observations made by indigenous people or described by foreign travellers (e.g. the impact of the hydroclimatic phenomenon El Nioo / ENSO on the ecosystems' equilibrium in S.W. America), and annual or regularly registered inventories of products and goods (e.g. cultivation of crops and production of wine in Pharaonic Egypt or in S. France during the Middle Ages) may reflect the climatic and environmental conditions in the archaeoenvironments. Finally, birth's & death's archives kept by local organized communities, may serve as palaeodemographical indices, which can tell us about the average age of death or the causes of death, highlighting many neglected social parameters.

c) Oral traditions and mythological cycles from all over the world, are full of information concerning past disasters. The Indian legends of N. America, the tales of Aborigines in the Southern Hemisphere, the secrets of the shamans in African tribes and, especially, the circum-mediterranean mythology challenge modern researchers.. The Mayan prophecies and the Aztecs' cosmology, the myth of Atlantis, the N.W. European sagas (e.g. Edda), the Sibylline Oracles, the epic narrations (e.g. the Homeric Epos in Greece, Mahabharata and other philological remnants of the civilization along Indus' valley), histories about gods, heroes and legendary journeys (e.g. Aristaios as benefactor of the first inhabitants of Cyclades, Argonautic Expedition, Hercules' deeds, Titanomachy & Gigantomachy, Hephaestos' fall from heaven, Noah's and Deucalion's Flood, Phaethon) reflect the times when sky, earth and water were in upheaval.

d) The migration of symbols reflects also the universal 'language' of disasters. Crisis cult, various ceremonies, specific colours (e.g. red and black as symbols of dark powers), numbers and rituals (e.g. the mystic fires of Tamaatea in New Zealand), ill-omened days in ancient calendars, new forms of worship or disorder in religious structures, adoption of curious symbols (e.g. swastika and birds as symbols of comets, dragons, serpents, dogs), deities with chtonic character (Seth, Hecate) act as archetypal images of the collective unconscious.

e) Even the artistic representations may cover a wide range of information, from coins (e.g. the Keian coins of Hellenistic Era with the Dog-star Sirius on them) to frescoes (e.g.the volcanic eruption of ca 6.200 B.C. on the mural painting of _atal Hüyük) and from rock art (e.g. the 11th cent. Indian petroglyphs of NW. USA) to paintings and book's sketches (e.g. the lethal earthquake and tsunami that stroke Lisbon on November 1, 1755 with 60.000 casualties).

f) Finally, there are many traces of catastrophic events directly or indirectly found in the archaeological record. Some of them are the isochronous destruction of settlements in the same latitude, the sudden and unexpected abandonment of flourishing landscapes, the sudden increase of storehouses within settlements, changes in the management of water supplies, prevalence of local goods and items instead of a previously active trade contacts, existence of unburied corpses or offhand burials, items and architectural structures thrown down and dispersed, evidence of severe fire, flood or tsunami, palaeopathological evidence, sudden technological changes, massive movements of people (e.g. the Sea People at the end of the 12th cent. B.C. or the tribes which migrated from the Asian steppes to Western Europe after the 4th cent. A.D.).


There are many reasons why it has proved very difficult to obtain a consensus on the meaning of the terms 'disaster' and 'catastrophe'. Firstly, the disciplinary orientations restrict a unanimous approach. Some scholars regard them as synonymous, while others consider them as descriptive of different levels of impact. Thousands of titles relating to hazard assessment exist already worldwide causing interminable discussions.. Instead of imposing a numerical threshold on disaster, not a particularly successful practice, we propose an alternative approach.

i. Spatial and temporal definition
The chosen areas that are the case studies of hazard analysis, are determined according to their coordinates, their geographical setting and the period of time during which the research is referred to.

ii. Identification of hazards
A quite long catalogue of natural and man-induced hazards is always a useful tool, in order to understand the variety of risks, which the archaeoenvironments were prone to (e.g. earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, impacts, electromagnetic storms / solar tsunami, tsunami & flooding, sea-level fluctuations, soil liquefaction, terrestrial or submarine landslides, submersion or emersion of land, rapid climatic changes, drought & heat, avalanches & rockfalls, snow storms, torrential rainfall, wild landfires, hailstorms, lightning, hurricanes, salinization & desertification, soil erosion & sedimentation, decrease in number of species within local ecosystems, expansion of marshes, epidemics, extended migrations of people, use of weapons for mass destruction, wars, dwelling in hazardous locations, pollution & contamination, famine, catastrophe of food resources, overpopulation). There is also another group of hazards, especially human-induced (e.g. industrial, technological or natural triggered by human action) that refer to modern landscapes, either natural or cultural. They must be equally studied, if we want to present a more holistic view of hazard analysis.

iii. Hazard Evaluation
According to the availability of information , we can define a number of escalated or measurable parameters: Predictability of the event, Probability of the event, Reversibility, Magnitude, Intensity, Duration, Frequency, Targets affected (human losses, injuries,crops, goods and holdings, facilities and services, infrastructure, buildings, landscapes, biodiversity, cultural universe), Severity of Consequences.

iv. Evaluation of Vulnerability
According to the availability of information , we can define a number of escalated or measurable parameters: Carrying Capacity of the area (ecological & anthropological), Differentiation of stress (ecological, cultural, biological), Determination of risk level (environmental, ecological, technological, anthropological / biological, cultural, economic, political). In other words, the number of people exposed to danger, the existence of social or other groups of people prone to specific hazard, the physical / mental conditions of humans, the possibility of quick recovery and the parameters that block it, the alternatives and the choices, are some of the criteria , which may be further a nalyzed in a systematic way.

v. Post shock Evaluation
According to the availability of information , we can define a number of escalated or measurable parameters: Visble or invisible results, Direct or indirect results, Short term or long term results , Permanent, transient or periodical results.

vi. Hazard Management Policies
The reaction of ancient population to crises may differ considerably: have the possibility to avoid the risk, have the possibility to control the risk, have the possibility to reduce the consequences of hazards, have the possibility to reduce the likelihood of their occurence, have the possibility to transfer the risk, fully or partially.

vii. Adaptive Processes
Ancient societies (nomadic, pastoral, agricultural, nautical, industrial, other, mixed) may have chosen diverse methods and ways of proactive planning, mitigation and adaptation: establish a suitable administrative and legislative framework in order to protect the environment and the population from hazards, improve management policies, invest on long term values (e.g. ecosystems' equilibrium, quality of life, human lives versus economic profit, prevention through education), increase storage capacity, keep a stable transportation network, enhance adaptability to landscapes' evolution over time, present alternative scenarios for the day after, acquire a profound knowledge of nature's mechanisms and environment's potential, tie the bonds between the stronger and weaker members of the society, protect the targets the most easily affected by hazards, overcome political, religious, phyletic or other restrictions when facing hazards, adopt new technologies, ideas or ways of help to overcome a disaster, show a more flexible and adaptable profile toward crises.

In general, the 'lifecycle' of hazards includes several situations, dynamically interrelated: Prevention- Preparedness - Response- Mitigation - Recovery. Even if there were not functioning the first two, ancient societies had to deal with the rest crucial stages.


The cross-cultural study of the response by human groups to major environmental disruptions brings together experts in order to assess the damage potential of various types of natural and man-made disasters.
Footprints of early hominids preserved in volcanic ash demonstrate that humans lived and interacted with natural hazards since the dawn of time. In every person's lifetime, at least one natural hazard will likely have some impact on their life. Apart from causing severe damage, hazards may provoke irreversible reactions and reform the human behavioral patterns, too.
The study of hazards' historic evolution has shown that the cultural patterns and networks are interdependent. Moreover, the characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics, all involve the parameter of disaster in their functional processes. Apart from influencing totally the course of human history (e.g. acute climatic episodes, epidemics, cosmic impacts), disasters had also influenced the division and control of Earth's surface. The forces of cooperation and conflict among people, the changes that occur in the use of resources and the migration of human populations had modified the natural and cultural landscapes of the past in a mutual way. Physical systems affect human societies and human actions modify the physical environment.

A disaster-induced crisis may cause direct and indirect anthropological and biological results. Severe climatic and environmental changes had triggered human evolution and physical factors seems to have played an important role on Neanderthals' disappearance. Sudden deaths of a wide part of ancient population shook the demographic stability and severe injuries altered the social equilibrium within society. The transformation of natural ecosystems (e.g. reduced or increased resources' accessibility) and the geographical alterations (e.g. coastal evolution) caused changes in settlement patterns, environmental use and concept, migrations and wars. Respectively, major environmental events (e.g. cosmic impacts or giant tsunami) modified the face of whole areas. Other periodically expressed phenomena (e.g. El Nioo & Monsoons) had long-term impact on the socioeconomic structures of local communities and crisis cult was always of critical importance within ancient societies.

Of course, disaster dynamics had proved to be so powerful that they changed the course of human history. Mighty empires collapsed and vanished or shocked irreversibly. Wide-ranging case studies have shown that natural factors triggered the fall of well organized social systems when their normal coping mechanism failed. Drought or flooding, epidemic diseases like plague, syphilis and smallpox, tremendous volcanic eruptions and meteorites, tsunami and earthquakes influenced the circum-mediterranean civilizations (Saharo-sahel cultures, Iberian, Egyptian, Hittite, Mesopotamian, Minoan & Mycenean, Etruscan, Roman), the N.W. European, Asian (Harrapan, Chinese, Oceanian) and American (Mesoamerican & Andean) civilizations.

Disaster research is a relatively new area of interest among archaeologists, psychologists and other social scientists. The more recent trend treats disasters as social phenomena and tries to identify the underlying psychological aspects ( Eranen & Liebkind, 1993). The prevalence of psychological symptoms and / or disorders (Rubonis & Bickman, 1991) during and after extreme environmental events may show a common profile among different cultures. Firstly, people use to look backward to a prior more fortunate time when humans lived happily by divine grace (e.g. the races of Hesiod, the blissful Atlantis kingdom). Prudence, good behavior and moral integrity are also considered as 'remedies' against the reappearance of the dreadful event. Even the gods and many heroic figures battle against the evil forces which want world's upheaval (e.g. Egyptian Osiris & Seth, Greek Olympians against the Titans and the Giants, the Aztec god of winds and creation Quetzalcoatl & the solar deity Nanahuatzin against the destruction's god).

On the other side, the 'fleet or stay' dilemma was always present when people was familiar to a specific risk, or the hazard was infrequent or socially controlled. People seemed to be willing to take quite high risks in the case of rare events. Building on flood plains and steep slopes, under the shadow of volcanoes, or in earthquake prone zones are good examples. Another interesting issue is the mechanism of return to homeland. In some cases societies recover and stay in the same environmental setting, while others abandon the initial geographical area for good . This parameter reflects the concept of perception. The perception of hazards is critically important to how a community reacts to a forcing mechanism (Torrence & Grattan, 2002; Bryant, 1991). Delayed recovery may be attributed to the absence of clear perception (e.g. the case of Pompei & Herculaneum on August 25th, A.D. 79 / the catastrophic Lake Nyos gas explosion on August 21st, 1986).
Generally speaking, complex societies deal with follow-on effects less flexibly than the simpler ones. Archaeologists detected relative cultural stability in the cases of prehistoric Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea. Particular social settings create vulnerable communities, the findings of which are echoed in the archaeological record, as the new behavioral traits or material culture may reflect a total replacement of a culture, a societal collapse, or, simply, the abandonment of local settlements.

The positive response to hazardous phenomena may vary considerably. During the aftermath of catastrophe or environmental change, technological innovations are illustrated (e.g. agriculture after Younger Dryas crisis, obsidian trade, metallurgy), new lands discovered (e.g. evolution of the waterways and early human migrations, the trips of Vikings to Northern Seas, the European expansion after the Little Ice Age), new subsistence strategies and more efficient techniques were adopted (e.g. the case of Moche Culture in Peru). In essence, crises use to stimulate rather than devastate the cultural traits of a society. The emplacement of nutrient-rich volcanic tephras and alluvial soils counterbalanced the spread of malaria in marshy areas, the dislocation of city's activities caused by coastal regression or transgression (e.g. ancient Mediterranean harbours, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Ephesos, Oiniades or fertile marshy areas like Marathon) and the repeated repair attempts after the experience of severe effects.

Some human groups are extremely adaptable in the face of disasters , being more tolerant of environmental perturbations than others. Two very compelling paradigms arise from the ancient Greek history. In spite the fact that individual inhabitants were highly vulnerable to ecologically or socially induced stress and catastrophe, poleis were at the same time remarkably resilient. The basic mechanics behind this phenomenon may be the diversification and redistribution of both populations and resources (Mac Kil, 2004). Individual case studies of wandering cities testify the afore-mentioned argument. Myous' harbor in the early 5th cent. B.C. was an active nautical centre with a capacity of 200 ships. Alluviation in the Great Maeander graben had transformed it into a marsh by the 1st cent. A.D. Then, local inhabitants pressed out by encroaching malarial fens, moved to Miletos and adapted completely to this new environmental and social framework. On the coastal plain of Achaia, between the Selinous and Kerynites rivers, Helike, on the southern coast of the Gulf of Korinth, provided archaeologists and other archaeoenvironmental scientists with intriguing testimonies. So far, clearly marked occupation horizons reflect the Bronze Age, Archaic and Classical, Roman and Byzantine settlements in this highly unstable environment (high rates of sedimentation, active seismicity of Helike fault, phenomena of liquefaction, uplift and subsistence of Helike delta). Although a large portion of Helike's population died after the earthquake and the tsunami of 373 B.C., the higher areas of the polis continued to be uded during Hellenistic Era. But even if the subsistence patterns continued to exist for a long time spread into the whole area, the bond between the physical site and polis' integrity as a prominent political entity (meeting place of the Achaian koinon) ceased to exist.

We come upon another highly important parameter. Survivor Mentality may also be a crucial factor in community's recovery from a disaster. Ancient writers describe profound social unease, panic and eschatological beliefs (Armaggedon and the end of the world). The descendants recall the events for a long period of time. In fact, Sigmund Freud (1913) established the theory of collective trauma, according to which underlying catastrophic incidents continue to be suppressed by the subconscious of human race, creating neurotic symptoms and dire psychological effects. On the contrary, Immanuel Velikovsky (1982) speculated that mankind suffers from a neurosis of collective amnesia caused by universal traumas. Other researchers have developed intriguing models of sudden evolution of mankind which gave birth to Homo sapiens schizotypus, a human stage that had the memory of many disasters (de Grazia, 1983 and 2005).

Even today, psychiatric reactions to hazardous situations have not received sufficient attention, perhaps because it is widely believed that human beings can endure any kind of extreme stress.. Apart from Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) with its symptoms that can occur within four weeks of the traumatic event, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with symptoms that are present for at least one month, is also included among the reactions and may be acute or chronic, affecting varying rates (2% - 50%) of population (NSW Institute of Psychiatry and Centre for Mental Health , 2000).

Separation from family, loss of all belongings and displacement provoke reactions merely somatic or senti-mental (phobias, mistrust of strangers, life threat , feelings of hopelessness, personality disorders, mental illness, memory and concentration problems, amnesia, horror and nightmares) along with long-term effects (e.g. high rates of accidents or various forms of addiction). Moreover, biological, social, political and economic factors seem to influence the profile of vulnerability within human groups. Females experience stronger and more lasting reactions, older adults are at greater risk than the children and adolescents. Married or parental status seems to be aggravated after disasters. Finally, hazard preparedness after previous disasters seems to facilitate the resilience and recovery attempts. Other factors that influence the disaster profile are the existence of ethnic minorities, living already in a highly disrupted or traumatized community or having bad psychiatric predisposition (Arata, 2000; Bromet et al., 2000; Bland et. al., 1996; Ursano et al., 1994; Wilson & Raphael, 1993; Austin, 1992; Palinkas et al., 1992; Breslau, 1990; Canino et al. 1990; Hutchins & Norris 1989; Farber, 1967). Unfortunately, the above-mentioned criteria are not yet estimated in the existed studies of past disasters, though they open new ways of approach.

Another issue which deserves special mention, is the period of ecological and social recovery, as well as the heavy responsibilities carried out by different agents. During Antiquity there was not any accident resembling to the Chernobyl worst nuclear reactor accident (April 25th & 26th, 1986) in the former USSR (now Ukraine) or the wreck of Exxon Valdez in the waters of Bligh Reef - Alaska (March 23rd, 1989). The first case caused untold suffering to many generations of population (acute radiation syndrome, deterministic, genetic & stochastic health effects), as for the second, it caused an oil spill area believed to contain more than 3.000 sites of archaeological and historical significance.This was a very special occasion which taught humans that cultural resources (human lives and cultural landscapes) are not renewable, because they cannot recover in the same sense of biological resources. Presently, cultural heritage sites around the world are inadequately protected from rapidly changing environmental and social conditions. Safeguarding these areas from hazards is extremely important as they represent unique and irreplaceable resources.


Not surprisingly, heritage landscapes are today acknowledged as irreplaceable sources with outstanding universal value. Protecting the natural and human ecosystems means consequently defending cultural diversity and human dignity. This worldwide need is now openly expressed by the international scientific community and the majority of nations, organizations, agents and local societies.

Moreover, environmental changes, whether man-made or natural, contemporary or past, have always involved a complex interplay of physical, chemical and biological processes of the Earth.. All scientific activities should coordinate in the best possible way, in order to insure the contribution of research to public awareness and sensitivity towards the multi-dimensional consequences of disasters (human and material loss, economic and environmental after-effects, cultural loss).

On the other hand, understanding when, where, why, and how natural hazards occur is the first step in minimizing their impacts on our lives. And a great deal of information regarding past disasters and after-shock cultural readjustments may turn into a very useful tool for modern scientists in order to plan effective mitigation strategies. The 'natural' and the 'human' are inextricably bound together in hazardous situations, thus, Disaster Archaeology should hold a leading position in hazard assessment, having as pivotal direction not only the study of the disastrous events of the past, but also the environmental, physical, mental and social shocks after them.


I owe thanks to Nicki Goulandris (Goulandris Museum of Natural History - GAIA, Centre for Environmental Research & Education) , who inspired me in various ways. Later on, Professor Alfred de Grazia, one of the worldwide leading personalities in Disaster Studies, opened my horizons to new perspectives. I also want to give special thanks to Professors George Ferentinos (Marine Geology and Physical Oceanography, University of Patras) and Stavros Papamarinopoulos (Applied Geophysics, University of Patras), for their support in word and action. Finally, Professors George Tsakiris (Director of the Center for the Assessment of Natural Hazards and Proactive Planning - NTUA) and Taxiarchis Papadopoulos (Applied Geophysics, University of Athens) were willing to broader the scientific boundaries of hazard matters including Disaster Archaeology into their scientific research . It has been a delight to collaborate with them on disaster topics.


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