Archaeological oceanography of inundated coastal prehistoric sites

Dwight F Coleman, University of Rhode Island


Since the last glacial maximum, about 20,000 years ago, both humankind and the natural environment have experienced rapid and extreme change. The earth's climate warmed and sea level rose more than 100 meters in response to the melting glaciers. Since this time, about one percent of the earth's surface, representing millions of square kilometers of land that was exposed as low-elevation coastal environments, was flooded by rising seas. In addition, deglaciation in northern latitudes caused the elevation of the land to adjust isostatically. These vertical displacements in the elevation of sea and land can be quantified in relative and absolute senses. The result we observe today is an inundated coastal landscape surrounding nearly every landmass throughout the world. ^ During this time of inundation and extreme climate change, human populations underwent extreme change as well. As people adapted to their surroundings, they thrived in coastal environments, migrated along coastal routes, became more culturally advanced, and left behind clues to their past. Many of these clues exist as archaeological sites on the shallow continental shelf, beneath water and sediment from the Holocene transgression. ^ This dissertation explores the methods of oceanography, as they apply to underwater archaeology. Techniques are presented and tested for several case studies. Offshore southern New England, a rich coastal environment that was exposed near the ice front of the Wisconsin glacier, was explored for potential Paleo-Indian occupation sites. In western Lake Huron, off northeastern Lower Michigan, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary was explored. The lake, which was more than 100 meters lower than at present between about 10,000 and 8,000 years ago, flooded a region that contains a number of sinkholes. These sinkholes could potentially hold important remains from Paleo-Indian populations. The Black Sea, which is hypothesized to be the site of a major catastrophic flood more than 7,000 years ago, was explored for inundated early Neolithic human habitation sites. An advanced culture thrived along the Black Sea coast at this time, and well-preserved sites that now lie underwater could contain significant remains of human history and clues to our past. ^

Subject Area

Anthropology, Archaeology|Geology|Biology, Oceanography|History, Ancient

Recommended Citation

Dwight F Coleman, "Archaeological oceanography of inundated coastal prehistoric sites" (2003). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3115624.