Sea-level change

The world we inhabit today is in many ways quite different to that which existed during the late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic (c. 6000-3500 BC) within the area considered by this project).  Since the Last Glacial Maximum c. 19,000 years ago, when ice covered much of the North of Europe, sea-levels have changed considerably. The melting of these large ice sheets poured water into the worlds oceans and seas, driving up global (eustatic) sea level. In addition, the release of the great weight these sheets represented allowed the land that had been under ice to recover from the pressure which had been exerted upon it. As such, in some areas the land began to rise up, seeing a fall in relative sea-level, while in others it began to sink, accelerating the rate of overall sea-level change. This complex relationship between eustatic (global sea-level) and isostatic (local elevation of the earth’s crust) factors makes understanding these changes difficult.

Fortunately, a considerable amount of research has been carried out by earth, ocean and environmental scientists, to improve our understanding of these processes. This project will build on recent investigations into these issues for the area around Britain, and place the results within their archaeological context. In addition, it is hoped that through our limited excavation and survey work, we can gain more detail on the impact and rate that some of these changes had on each island group.

The changing sea

Understanding the nature, extent and impact of sea-level change is of considerable importance to this project.  However, our interest extends beyond the elevation of the sea, to a consideration of the texture of the sea, how it behaved and how people may have engaged with it; from journeying over it, to catching fish from it. The changes described above not only reconfigured coastlines, but created shifts in tidal races and the extent of inter-tidal zones. In this project we will work with the sea-level change data to create computer models of the sea’s changing behaviour, and what this may have meant to the people who went out onto, and into it. What were the western seaways like over this period and how navigable were they?

The pages on this section of the website will continue to be updated to chart the progress being made. In the meantime, if you have an interest in this topic, or an account of your time and experience on the western seaways today please get in touch.

Our seafaring game in Google Earth is now up and running. Have a go on the game page.

The exciting results of our new sea level modelling were published in June 2013 in the Journal of Archaeological Science online. You can read and download the paper here.

The ‘western seaways’

The idea that the sea can connect as well as divide, provide important resources, and play a significant part in how people understand their world, lies at the heart of this project. In trying to improve our understanding of the Neolithic of each island group we are deliberately looking beyond activity on land alone. For those living along the coast, or on small islands, this may seem like a basic requirement. However, the nature of the changes which have occurred over the past eight thousand years, and the questions that archaeologists have been asked of the past, mean that this basic requirement is not easy to get to grips with, and has been somewhat overlooked in recent years.

Watch an animation (based on our computer modelling) showing how the sea

around Britain has changed over the last 12,000 years in this video:

You can download the Palaeogeography.kmz file that was used to create this animation and import it into your own Google Earth.There is a lot of information so it takes a while to load into the software.