The Pontine Marshes: An integrated study of the origin, history, and future of a famous coastal wetland in Central Italy

Jan Sevink*, Tymon C.A. de Haas, Luca Alessandri, Corrie C. Bakels, Francesco Di Mario

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The Pontine Marshes (Central Italy) are known for their long drainage history starting early in Roman times and culminating in their reclamation (bonifica
integrale) by the Fascist’s regime under Mussolini, mostly in the 1930s of past century. The geology of this coastal wetland and causes for its drainage
problems received limited attention till recently. We reviewed results from recent studies, identified still existing knowledge gaps and performed
additional research to fill these, to produce a full description of the Holocene history and drainage of these marshes. Massive coring data that served
to map the soils and surficial geology, observations in archaeological excavations, analytical data on soil and sediment characteristics, and radiocarbon
datings allowed us to distinguish several phases in this history, with a main break in the early Roman Republican period with the first systematic drainage
works. Earlier, natural processes brought about by sea level rise largely controlled its drainage. Once artificial drainage started, soil subsidence became an
important process, aggravating the drainage problems. The bonifica introduced mechanical drainage, temporarily masking the impacts of subsidence. We
quantified the historical subsidence using DTMs and developed scenarios for the impacts of sea level rise and subsidence in 2100 and 2200, assuming that
this rise will be mitigated by a coastal defence system and enhanced capacity of the mechanical drainage. Our results demonstrate the important role of
soil subsidence throughout the history of this wetland and need to include subsidence in scenarios for the impacts of sea level rise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1087-1106
Number of pages20
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number9
Early online date7-Jun-2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept-2023


  • landscape archaeology
  • reclamation
  • wetlands
  • pontine marshes
  • geoarchaeology

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