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Land degradation in 400BC

The Importance of Forest Preservation

‘Contemporary Attica may accurately be described as a mere relic of the original country, as I shall proceed to explain.

In configuration Attica consists entirely of a long peninsula protruding from the mass of the continent into the sea and the surrounding marine basin is known to shelve steeply round the whole coastline. In consequence of the successive violent deluges which have occurred within the last 9,000 years, there has been a constant movement of soil away from the high altitudes; and owing to the shelving relief of the coast this soil, instead of laying down alluvium, as it does elsewhere, to any appreciable extent, has been perpetually deposited in the deep sea round the periphery of the country or, in other words, lost; so that Attica has undergone the process observable in small islands and what remains of her substance is like the skeleton of a body emaciated by disease as compared with her original relief. All the rich, soft soil has moulted away, leaving a country of skin and bones. At the period however, with which we are dealing, when Attica was still intact, what are now her mountains were lofty soil-clad hills: her so called shingle plains of the present day were full of rich soil; and her mountains were heavily afforested – a fact of which there are still visible traces.

There are mountains in Attica which can now keep nothing but bees, but which were clothed not so very long ago with fine trees producing timber suitable for roofing the largest buildings; and roofs hewn from this timber are still in existence. There were also many lofty cultivated trees, while the county produced boundless pasture for cattle. The annual supply of rainfall was not lost as it is at present through being allowed to flow over the denuded surface into the sea, but was received by the country, in all its abundance, into her bosom, where she restored it in her impervious potter’s earth and so was able to discharge the drainage of the heights into the hollows in the form of springs and rivers with an abundant volume and a wide territorial distribution. The springs that survive to the present day on the sites of extinct water supplies are evidence for the correctness of my present hypothesis.’

Plato, Collected Works. Oxford Text, Vol IV. Critias, 111 A-D.

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