A nuraghe within the typical agro-silvo-pastoral landscape of Sardinia (pascolo arborato) (Photo by Giuseppe Mozzo)

By Marco Malvasi, Manuele Bazzichetto, Stefania Bagella, Vojtěch Barták, Anna Depalmas, Antonello Gregorini, Marta Gaia Sperandii, Alicia Acosta, and Simonetta Bagella.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; please check back for a link to the full paper.

The interaction between humans and vegetation in Sardinia is ancient, reciprocal and dynamic. The vegetation, together with the related ecosystem services (that is, the services that organisms and ecosystems provide to humanity) drove the land occupation strategies of Nuragic civilization (Sardinia, 1700 – 580 BCE), which, in turn, shaped the vegetation layout, transforming the landscape into agro-silvo-pastoral systems (that is, a system that features crops, forestry and the pasturage of animals).  It follows that the origin of the present Sardinian agro-silvo-pastoral landscapes (i.e. pascolo arborato) can be traced back to the Nuragic civilization.

Human-vegetation interaction is crucial for the survival of the present pascoli arborati, which were and still are, important suppliers of provisioning (e.g., food and firwood), regulating (e.g, water) and cultural ecosystem services. Among others, these landscapes, crowded with nuraghi— round dry-stone towers characterizing the Nuragic culture—are a good example of intimate and sustainable relationships between people and nature and provide a marked sense of place for Sardinia inhabitants, who consider the Nuragic civilization, together with their heritage, as the foundation of the Sardinian feeling of historical and cultural identity.

We obtained such findings by crossing the map of nuraghi occurrences (more than 5,000 nuraghi are still present in the region), with the map of the vegetation series, defined as a hypothesis of a succession of plant communities that can potentially succeed each other over time in a particular land unit. Specifically, we identified those vegetation series that were more populated, exploited or managed in terms of ecosystem services by Nuragic people.

In this context, linking archaeology and plant ecology under the ecosystem services framework offered archaeology a better understanding of the environmental settings and subsistence of the Nuragic civilization and provided plant ecology with a long-term perspective on human-vegetation interactions. Although challenged by the different languages and methodologies, such a transdisciplinary approach was particularly informative considering that no written records of the Nuragic civilization have been discovered. Finally, within the context of long-term socio-ecological dynamics, an ecosystem services/archaeology nexus can offer decision-makers lessons from the past and a broader perspective of sustainability and inform future practice for the island of Sardinia.