Home Sciences The rise in sea level during the Mesolithic and Neolithic opens our...

The rise in sea level during the Mesolithic and Neolithic opens our eyes


A study reveals the impact that the rise in sea level had on the human groups that lived in the coastal plains of the Mediterranean during the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. The researcher Javier Fernández López de Pablo warns that the rise in sea level is today one of the greatest challenges and that we can learn from past experience.

A study carried out in the surroundings of the Marjal de Pego-Oliva Natural Park, between Valencia and Alicante, reveals how the rise in sea level impacted the human groups that inhabited this area of ​​the Mediterranean coast during the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

The research has made it possible to map different stages of the flooding process of the coastal plains, between 9,000 and 7,300 years ago, which radically modified the configuration of the coastline and the biotopes, favorable for the flora and fauna of this region.

The study integrates recent sedimentological studies, carbon 14 dating of lagoon sediments and bathymetric data from the continental shelf.

With this information, the researchers have obtained detailed digital models of the terrain and reconstructed the position of the coastline and coastal lagoons over time.

dramatic effects

The study points out that, during the Holocene stage, these transformations can be appreciated on time scales of generations (25 years).

In this area, the researchers estimate that the coastline moved inland at a rate of 140 meters every 50 years. This means that these changes were noticeable throughout a person’s life.

During the Mesolithic, the human groups that inhabited this sector of the peninsular Mediterranean arc systematically exploited the coastal lagoons for the collection of molluscs and for fishing, while the coastal plains were used as hunting territories.

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However, rising sea levels had a dramatic impact on these hunter-gatherer communities. As the coastline advanced towards the interior of the continent, the extension of the coastal plains and lagoons decreased, producing a decrease in the amount of resources available in these ecosystems.

Javier Fernández López de Pablo: The rise in sea level always has an impact on human groups

This study has been developed by the distinguished researcher of the Gen-T Plan, attached to the University Institute for Research in Archeology and Historical Heritage (INAPH) of the University of Alicante (UA), Javier Fernandez Lopez de Pablotogether with the researcher from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) of France, Elodie Brissett, attached to the Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Marine and Continental Ecology. The results are published in the Journal of Maps.

Speaking to Tendencias21, Javier Fernández López de Pablo points out that changes in sea level rise have, have had and will have a very significant impact on human groups.

“In an area with coastal plains occupied by coastal lagoons, such as the one studied in the article, the rise in sea level resulted in the loss of habitable areas, transformation of coastal biotopes and ecosystems. During the Mesolithic, these environmental transformations must have had a very significant impact on subsistence practices and on the ways of occupying the territory”, indicates the researcher.

Is this historical situation comparable to what may happen in the future?

Today’s societies are not comparable to those of the Mesolithic, neither in population density, economy, technology or social complexity. However, the impact of rising sea levels, as a result of global warming, remains one of today’s greatest challenges: it is estimated that by the end of the century it will affect 15% of the planet’s population (more than 800 million people). Explaining what happened in the past in order to understand what is happening now and what may happen to us in the future is one of the obligations archeology has in relation to the impact of global warming on society.

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What can we learn from this historical experience?

The transformations can take place very quickly and can be perceived from one generation to another: one of the most important aspects of the work is to present maps and 3D visualizations that allow us to appreciate, on a human scale, the transformations of the coastal environments produced by the sea ​​level rise. In the case study that we present, these changes can be appreciated from one generation to another by prehistoric populations. A good clue about what can happen in the future.

Currently, we have much more advanced measurement and monitoring systems for sea level rise due to scientific advances (in marine geology, remote sensing, oceanography), but the social perception (by the general public) of this problem remains low.


Impacts of sea-level rise on prehistoric coastal communities: land use and risk perception during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in central Mediterranean Spain. Elodie Brisset, Javier Fernandez Lopez de Pablo. Journal of Maps, 04 May 2022. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1080/17445647.2022.2071649

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