EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Investigating Pleistocene sea-level changes along the northern Mediterranean coast through Palaeolithic cultural heritage: perspectives from the S-P-Heritage Project

Marta Pappalardo1 and the SPHeritage Project members*
Marta Pappalardo and the SPHeritage Project members
  • 1University of Pisa, Department of Earth Sciences, Pisa, Italy
  • *A full list of authors appears at the end of the abstract

Cultural heritage not only witnesses past spiritual and aesthetic attitudes of mankind, but also represents a unique means to investigate the intimate relationship between humanity and the environment.  We present an overview and preliminary data of the SPHeritage Project, which investigates evidence of Palaeolithic human occupation and cultural heritage in the NW Mediterranean area in conjunction with Pleistocene sea-level change studies. A tightly interdisciplinary approach is necessary to use cultural heritage as a proxy for sea-level change evidence. The SPHeritage Project (MUR grant: FIRS2019_00040, P.I.: M. Pappalardo) investigates how human populations have responded to environmental changes and sea-level variations over the last 400,000 years in the Ligurian-Provençal coastal area (along the border between Italy and France) using a combination of micro-invasive methods applied to in situ and previously excavated sediments of uttermost archaeological relevance. In this area, particularly in the archaeological area of Balzi Rossi, a unique assemblage of archaeological sites dating to the Palaeolithic can be found in a rocky coast geomorphological setting where sea-level indicators of the last 3 or 4 interglacials are present. They lack reliable dating and a standardized assessment of the palaeo sea level they record. Improved age constraint of the coastal deposits and recording of relative sea-level (RSL) change evidence is necessary for: i) contribution to the standardized inventory of past interglacial sea-leves; ii) investigating changes in the biodiversity of rocky coastal marine ecosystems triggered by different interglacial environmental conditions; iii) the development of a self-consistent Glacial Isostatic Adjustment model capable of including the residual effect of previous interglacials’ rebound on the isostatic response of later interglacials; iv) investigating how RSL change and consequent shoreline fluctuations can drive settlement strategies and human migration/dispersal patterns. This project is challenged by the previous removal of large portions of the local archaeological sequences in earlier investigations beginning at the end of the nineteenth century. The challenge in this Project is that most of the local archaeological sequences have been extensively investigated since the end of the nineteenth century and large part of the deposits were removed. Therefore, we will combine analyses of relict in situ sediments with those of stratigraphically constrained materials preserved in museums and archaeological deposits worldwide. Moreover, traces of past shorelines will be searched for in the sedimentary sequence of the continental shelf through geophysical surveys and, if this will prove possible, through direct sediment coring. Our preliminary data are promising, and suggest that this interdisciplinary and microinvasive approach can provide valuable evidence on sea-level change from archaeological areas without hampering cultural heritage preservation.

SPHeritage Project members:

Marta Pappalardo1, Irene M. Bollati2, Nicola Corradi3, Luca Forti2, Silvia Gazzo3, Danilo Morelli3, Abdelkader Moussous4, Giovanni Muttoni2, Fabio Negrino3, Olivier Notter4, Manuela Pelfini2, Alessandro Perego2, Serena Perini2, Luca Ragaini1, Eleonora Regattieri5, Elena Rossoni-Notter4, Deirdre D. Ryan1, Marco Serradimigni1, Elisabetta Starnini1, Matteo Vacchi1, Andrea Zerboni1

How to cite: Pappalardo, M. and the SPHeritage Project members: Investigating Pleistocene sea-level changes along the northern Mediterranean coast through Palaeolithic cultural heritage: perspectives from the S-P-Heritage Project, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-11357,, 2022.