The significance of sea-level change and ancient submerged landscapes in human dispersal and development: A geoarchaeological perspective

Geoffrey Bailey, Hayley Cawthra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we highlight the impact of sea-level change on the archaeological record of key developments in human history that took place during the late Pleistocene and the early Holocene. Before modern sea level became established from ∼7 ka onwards, most palaeoshorelines and large areas of coastal hinterland were exposed as habitable land and then drowned again by sea-level rise. We summarise the archaeological implications of this pattern and the conditions in which archaeological and geoarchaeological evidence from these submerged landscapes is preserved despite the potentially destructive erosional impact of sea-level rise. We provide examples of palaeolandscape reconstruction made possible through multi-disciplinary collaboration between archaeology and marine science, drawing on recent underwater research in the North Sea, the Red Sea and on the Cape Coast of South Africa, and discuss evidence of past human responses to sea-level change. We identify the types of modelling procedures that need to be developed to advance this field of research, emphasise the importance of inter-disciplinary collaboration involving two-way exchange of ideas and information between archaeology and marine science, and highlight the value of a long-term perspective in understanding the present and future human impact of sea-level rise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
Early online date22 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Nov 2021

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