Insight into the carbonaceous fraction of three cultural layers of different age from the area of Verona (NE Italy)

Mara Bortolini, Federica Agnoletto, Elena Argiriadis, Cristiano Nicosia, David McWethy, Yannick Devos, Angela Stortini, Maela Baldan, Marco Roman, Tiziano Vendrame, Raffaella Scaggiante, Brunella Bruno, Giulio Pojana, Dario Battistel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Cultural layers are deposits resulting from settlement and human activity on natural soil in the past. Materials from past domestic activities that become buried into the soil can be used to reconstruct human impact in a specific area in the past. For instance, humans have used fire for millennia, and charcoal in soils and sediments is applied as evidence of anthropic activity. In this context, assessing the abundance and degradation level of charcoal fragments can clarify anthropic activities in cultural deposits. In European towns, cultural layers with similar characteristics, have been defined as urban “Dark Earth” (UDE) but their age, formation and composition often differ significantly across sites.
This study examined three archaeological sites in Verona, Italy, where UDE layers with similar characteristics have been identified. The primary aim of this research is to understand the anthropogenic influence on the development of UDE layers, by characterizing their geochemistry and the carbonaceous materials. To pursue this goal, we provide a micromorphological description of the sites, evaluate UDE features and the abundance of charred material and characterize the amorphous/crystalline degree through μ-Raman spectroscopy. Bulk ma- terial was described in terms of amounts of total organic carbon (TOC), recalcitrant organic carbon (ROC), total inorganic carbon (TIC), and trace element concentration. Radiocarbon dating of charred and humin fractions was performed to clarify the dynamics underlying UDE origin. We investigate the relationship between the different variables analyzed in the UDE layers at each site. Results show that a diverse array of human activities including metal tool and/or ceramic manufacturing were related to the formation of UDE layers. The investigation of carbonaceous fractions highlight differences in soil organic carbon and charred material, both of which are correlated with human influence.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Urban Dark Earth
  • soil micromorphology
  • micromorphology
  • urban archaeology
  • Verona
  • urban geoarchaeology
  • radiocarbon dating
  • raman spectroscopy
  • carbonaceous fraction


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