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Study: Ancient Italy's wet period coincides with stories of 'water miracles'

Study: Ancient Italy's wet period coincides with stories of 'water miracles'
Researchers have linked climate change -- specifically, increased rainfall -- to the "water miracles" of the 6th century, such as St. Fredianus diverting the River Serchio, as depicted in the painting. Photo by Filippo Lippo/Wikimedia Commons

March 29 (UPI) -- A research institute said Monday scientific data confirms north and central Italy had increased rainfall in the 6th century amid stories of "water miracles."

University of Pisa and the University of Warsaw researchers led the new study in collaboration with an international team, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History said in a press release Monday.

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Saints bring down or stop violent rains, storms and floods through "water miracles," described in 6th-century accounts from the Apennine Penninsula, especially the Dialogues on the Miracles of the Italian Fathers attributed to Pope Gregory the Great.

The increased frequency of floods and extreme rainfall events, described in the report as "unusual hydroclimatic conditions," occurred during the same time that stories of "water miracles" increased, according to the study published in the journal Climate Change.

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Researchers obtained data about the climate in 6th century Italy by analyzing a stalagmite from Renella Cave in northern Tuscany.

Stalagmites can be used to detect environmental conditions using layers of minerals deposited in them, much like they would do with tree rings, according to researchers.

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Specifically, scientists were able to measure the ratio of oxygen isotopes in successive layers to distinguish between wetter and drier periods.

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They dated these periods using uranium-thorium dating, similar to more widely known radiocarbon method, to determine the 6th century was unusually wet.

"In this study, geochemists, geologists, and climate specialists proved a climactic change that written sources only hinted at," first author of the paper Giovanni Zanchetta said in the press release.

"In the 6th century, at least part of Italy really did become a land of torrential rains and floods," said Zanchetta, a University of Pisa professor of geology.

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