Living with Sea Level Change and Dynamic Landscapes: An Archaeological Perspective

  • Geoffrey N. BaileyEmail author
  • Geoffrey C. P. King
Part of the Environmental Science and Engineering book series (ESE)


For most of human existence on this planet over the past 2 million years, sea level has been substantially lower than the present and has swung through changes of more than 100 m in response to the glacial–interglacial climatic cycle. At a time when modern society is increasingly concerned about the potentially destructive impact over the coming decades of a sea-level rise of 3 m or so, it is sobering to realize that prehistoric societies across the world faced a sea-level rise between about 16,000 and 6000 years ago of 130 m (Fig. 1). That change of course was spread over many human generations and many millennia, so that the full effects would not have been experienced within a single human lifetime. Nevertheless, the long-term cumulative effect of sea level rise and loss of territory would have been dramatic. On a world scale, substantial areas of continental shelf were successively exposed, creating potentially attractive territories for human settlement and migration and land connections between major land masses, and then removed again by sea level rise (Fig. 2). In Europe, during the last glacial period, the total land mass of the continent was extended by as much as 40% at the maximum marine regression (Fig. 3), with a corresponding loss of land when sea levels rose as the continental glaciers melted into the oceans. In some parts of the sea-level cycle, and especially in regions where the slope of the continental shelf is shallow, the effects would have been noticeable and sometimes dramatic within the lifetimes and memories of the people affected. Moreover, these changes have taken place repeatedly over the long Pleistocene history of human existence.


Archaeological Record Complex Topography East African Rift Geological Change Shell Mound 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We acknowledge support from our primary funding agencies, the British Academy, The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC, UK) through its EFCHED programme (Environmental Factors in Human Evolution and Dispersal), the Leverhulme Trust, the !Khure France-South Africa project, and the EU through its COST (Cooperation in Science and Technology) scheme in support of COST Action TD0902, which have funded the field investigations and stimulated the international and interdisciplinary collaborations from which the ideas in this chapter have benefited. This is IPGP paper number 3047.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of YorkYorkUK
  2. 2.Institut de Physique du GlobeParisFrance

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