4.1 Vegetation and environment

Another criticism often levelled against the use of viewsheds is that they do not take into account the 'tree factor', or the limiting of ancient views owing to vegetation (Gillings and Wheatley 2001, 32). The modern landscape retains no traces of these obstructions and thus they are hard to account for. The Faynan was a landscape deeply impacted upon by human industrial activity. During the Roman and Byzantine periods, an average of 80-258 tonnes of charcoal were consumed each year to smelt the copper ore (Barker et al. 2007, 346). This was on top of the thousands of years the Faynan had already been operating as a copper-producing region. Other than the copper industry, the local inhabitants would also require fuel for domestic uses, further denuding the landscape. The pressures that this fuel consumption put on the local environment can be traced through the pollen record. Pollen analysis shows the Faynan was a degraded landscape, despite the increased precipitation in the Roman and Byzantine periods (Hunt et al. 2007, 1330). The main species associated with the Roman and Byzantine periods are those found in dry steppe or desert environments. Desert flora species, such as Chenopodiaceae, and those that indicate soil erosion such as Lactuceae, dominate the assemblage (Barker et al. 2007, 77, 340).

The diminishing supply of fuel meant that local resources would have been strained to meet this charcoal demand and the surroundings were continually stripped of vegetation. This caused a discrepancy between reports of a wetter environment in the Levant during the Roman period and the actual vegetation in the Faynan. This discrepancy can be attributed to human behaviour rather than climatic conditions. The creation of an ', treeless, biologically unproductive region...' was the result of the large-scale collection of fuel for copper smelting (Hunt et al. 2007, 1331).

With this environmental reconstruction (Fig. 7) we can argue that the Faynan does not have any significant vegetation that would obstruct views. This means that the 'tree factor' would not have had a significant impact and does not have to be taken into account in the current study.

Figure 7
Figure 7: Graph of environmental reconstruction and vegetative history (after Barker et al. 2007, 92).
POP - Poaceae-Ostrya-Pinus; PPA - Poaceae-Pinus-Artemisia; PAP - Poaceae-Artemisia-Plantago; PCPJ - Plantago-Caryophyllaceae-Poaceae-Juniperus; CLP - Chenopodiaceae-Lactuceae-Poaceae; CPE - Chenopodiaceae-Pinus-Ephedra; C - Chenopodiaceae; CLT - Chenopodiaceae-Lactuceae-Tamarix; for more information on these biozones, see Barker et al. 2007, 71-78.

While there was little ancient vegetation, a semi-arid landscape has other factors that can affect visibility. The first is the sun. In a desert environment this can limit visibility owing to brightness and heat-wave distortion. Another factor in a deforested landscape suffering from erosion is wind-blown sand. Sand storms are frequent during the winter months and also occur on a small scale in the afternoons during summer. Finally, a by-product of copper smelting would be air pollution, which could create a significant haze effect. Pollution inhibits visibility in a noticeable way. The particles and gasses released into the atmosphere reflect light, causing it to scatter. This scattering affects the light wavelengths and the colour and clarity of what can be seen (Malm 1999, 13). The longer the vista the more pronounced the effect becomes. The ability to distinguish objects at a distance is dramatically reduced. We cannot assume the same clarity of vision in the Faynan as occurs in other landscapes. Nor can we assume that the views would always be the same. At midday or during periods of windstorms or smelting, visibility would have been reduced.

Figure 8 Figure 9
Figure 8: Twilight in the Faynan landscape (photo Hannah Friedman).
Figure 9: Sandstorm during the day in Faynan (photo Hannah Friedman).


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