Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Efficient flood response – 800 years ago

A press release from the Economic and Social Research Council: You might think flooding and other natural disasters in the Middle Ages would automatically spell misery and death, but in reality they were surprisingly well organised, according to recent findings. In the aftermath of flooding, earthquakes and droughts, local authorities and charities would organise searches for victims, rebuild infrastructure and offer disaster relief to victims.

"We should banish the popular public image of the medieval period as a time of superstitious hysteria and hopelessness. In many senses this too was a 'risk society', one with an increasingly sophisticated toolkit in hazard mitigation and adaption and developing measures of protection," geographer David Petley and archaeologist Chris Gerrard point out in a recent research paper. Their research has been co-funded by ESRC through the Earthquakes without Frontiers programme.

Indicators such as repaired buildings or methodical burials suggest organised responses after environmental hazards. Excavations in Basel, Switzerland, revealed how weapons, kitchen implements and other artefacts had been left behind in a hurry after a huge earthquake in 1356. However, they also traced where the inhabitants had rebuilt the city.

"We find that medieval communities were not helpless in the face of serious environmental hazards. We argue instead that the response of society to these threats was frequently complex, considered and, at times, surprisingly modern," the researchers conclude.

The powerful Italian city states were particularly well-organised. After the flooding of Florence in 1333, the local authorities formed an emergency committee to make repairs, give tax relief to victims, and provide food relief to stranded flood victims. They built a temporary bridge over the River Arno....

The Ponte Vecchio, shot by Gary Ashley, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

No comments: