C 05

Island Resources– A Comparative Study of Island Societies in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period

Academic Disciplines

Medieval and Early Modern History
Medieval Archaeology

During the late Middle Ages and early modern period, islands were mostly considered in their function as transit stations for migration and trade, as destinations for expeditions to acquire exotic objects, or as supply points for long journeys. In contrast, the features peculiar to small islands (e.g., less than 10,000 km2) have rarely been studied, especially through interdisciplinary (archaeological and historical) studies. Due to their isolated location, vulnerability to piracy, dependence on the mainland, limited geological resources, and lack of potable water, small islands share many characteristics. How these economic and ecological factors are dealt with depends largely on the attitudes and knowledge of the inhabitants of the respective islands. With this in mind, Project C 05 of SFB 1070 examines the history of small islands to understand how resources have been used, discussed, and preserved.

In this phase, a historical case study considers the cultural history of water on Spanish islands in the early modern period. Water is examined as a ResourceComplex in which religious and economic-political practices intertwined. Thus, the veneration of the Virgen del Pino (Virgin of the Pine Tree) is found in places where ‘fog harvesting’ was practised: the use of pine trees to extract water from fog banks and clouds that slowly rise along mountain ranges. In addition, the islanders used numerous supplications (rogativas), in which they prayed to God for water, as a means of sending political messages and bringing about economic change through such religious practices. Unlike other religious practices, these supplications had to be registered by the local government and transmitted to the king. Bypassing the hierarchies of established governance structures, the islanders thus had fluid options for action at their disposal, which they attempted to use in the interest of helping to shape their living conditions. In the mirror of these numerous and throughout very expressive supplications, the contemporary experience with and interpretation of natural disasters in the pre-modern period can be studied.

The results obtained from the historical analysis of the observations described are compared with archaeological examples in order to pursue the question of the extent to which small islands used their resources differently than on the mainland.

The second case study uses archaeological means to examine monasteries on islands and their use of water as a resource. Thereby, the special landscape situation - between intended isolation and specifically via the waterway existing connectedness - is investigated. These monastery islands can be surrounded by fresh water in rivers and lakes or lie in the sea closer or further away from the mainland. Starting from the Christian island monasteries of Europe, the topic is approached in a fundamentally global and supra-religious way, including, for example, Buddhist monasteries and Hindu Satras in South Asia. The aim is, with the help of numerous researchers from other world regions and religions, to identify temporal and spatial focal points of monastery foundations on islands and to compare their development. Special attention will be paid to the concrete water management inside and outside the monasteries. Furthermore, activities indirectly related to water such as navigation or fish consumption will play a role. Last but not least, the spiritual significance of water in the context of island monasteries will be addressed.

The two case-studies from history and archaeology overlap geographically on the Balearic Islands. There, the temporal and spatial development of the insular monastic world and, in parallel, the medieval and early modern cultural history of water supply will be illuminated. From the 5th century A.D. on, a phase of early monasteries on very small islands, which can almost exclusively be grasped archaeologically, emerges, which seems to break off almost completely with the Muslim conquest from 902 on. Then, from 1229, after the reconquest, a high density of monasteries emerges, especially on Mallorca itself. The nature and the actors of the water supply seem to differ greatly in the three phases. At the same time, parallels can be observed with the development of monastic sites along the French, Irish and British coasts: here, too, there is a trend to move the monasteries inland as a result of external threats. The influence of such developments on the water management of rivers or the construction of irrigation terraces is currently the subject of intensive and transdisciplinary research. From the perspective of medieval and early modern island economies, Project C 05 will contribute to this research.