Simplifying a deltaic labyrinth: anthropogenic imprint on river deltas
The information contained by historical maps provides a good source of understanding the complex transformation of a deltaic environment by human activity. Using the Danube delta as an example, here we show that a artographic diagnosis for river deltas is based on four main steps that outline the learning stages for every similar area: 1) exploring coasts (for the early stages of the portolan and Ptolemaic maps); 2) exploring depths (for the succeeding imperial and military maps which focused on the access along the deltaic distributaries); 3) exploring deltaic networks (when economic and ecological reasons led to detailed topographic maps based on field measurements and aerial photos); 4) ecological protectionism (when ecological reasons dictate land use patterns and determine land use change). This synopsis is applicable to other river deltas with some adaptations imposed by the local context. We interpret the four stages in the description of the Delta as resting on and further reinforcing the power of the centre to dictate the uses of the periphery. We further argue that the way the territory is lived by local inhabitants is continuously marginalized and effaced. This stands in the way of future adaptive strategies.