TerraSAgE: Terraces as Agricultural Sustainable Environments

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TerraSAgE is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) from 2020-2022.


Terraces are prominent features in agricultural landscapes across the world. Several terraced landscapes are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including terraces for olive and vine cultivation in Europe and the Middle East, and rice production in Asia. Terraces are connected to what people consider ‘traditional’ agriculture, and their scenic qualities contribute strongly to regional landscape character. Extensive agricultural and environmental research has suggested their benefits for soil management and controlling moisture levels, but this positive impact has not been fully evaluated in the long term, due to limitations in accurately dating terrace formation and evolution.

Analysing the historical context and changing function of terraces has been recognised as fundamentally important to understanding sustainable agricultural practices (Krahtopoulou and Frederick 2008), but despite their global distribution and numerous studies dedicated to their ecological and agricultural functions, the histories of terraced landscapes remain surprisingly poorly understood. Relatively little is known about when they were established, and how they were used and developed across different periods and environments. The major reason is that terraces have proven exceptionally difficult to date (Acabado et al. 2009). Excavated artefacts can give relative dates, but datable finds are frequently absent and complicated by disturbance and bioturbation. References to terraces are rare in ancient or medieval texts, potentially because they were so commonplace in the landscape. The innovative approach developed by PI Turner and CoI Kinnaird for dating earthwork features, including agricultural terraces, represents a major advance for this problem.

Applied in parallel with geoarchaeological techniques, including chemical and micromorphological analysis, and broader landscape survey, these methods presents an opportunity to revolutionise understanding of past terrace systems and their landscapes – and to reveal and evaluate the societal, economic and environmental strategies that underpinned their construction, evolution and abandonment.


Pilot studies

  • Vervust, S., Kinnaird, T., Herring, P. and Turner, S.  2020. Dating earthworks using optically-stimulated luminescence profiling and dating (OSL-PD): the creation and development of prehistoric field boundaries at Bosigran, Cornwall (UK) Antiquity 94 (374), 420-436
  • Turner, S., Bolòs J, Kinnaird T. 2018. Changes and continuities in a Mediterranean landscape: a new interdisciplinary approach to understanding historic character in western Catalonia. Landscape Research 43 (7), 922-938
  • Kinnaird, TC., Bolos J, Turner A, Turner S. 2017. Optically-stimulated luminescence profiling and dating of historic agricultural terraces in Catalonia (Spain). Journal of Archaeological Science 78, 66-77