How can past sea level be evaluated from traces of anthropogenic layers in ancient saltpans?

Benny Bechor, Simona Avnaim-Katav, Steffen Mischke, Slobodan Miko, Ozren Hasan, Maja Grisonic, Irena Radić Rossi, Barak Herut, Nimer Taha, Naomi Porat, Dorit Sivan

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Footprints of human activities identified in the sedimentary sequence of submerged historical saltpans can reveal the history of the site and can indicate the relative sea level during its operational period. Saltpans are man-made constructions used continuously for salt production in the Mediterranean at least for the last 2000 years. The east Adriatic coast contains many such submerged remains, preserved and well-dated by historical archives. Sedimentological, microfossil and geochemical analyses of the sediments from cores drilled in the saltwork area at Brbinj, Dugi Otok, Croatia, enable the reconstruction of various past environmental conditions. The current study aims to: a) identify the anthropogenic unit in the sedimentary sequence deposited over time, b) determine its age, and c) use it as past sea-level limiting points. Basal units made of terra rossa soil materials were identified in the sedimentary records. These layers are located -120 ±7 cm below mean sea level next to the separation wall and -125 ±7 cm and -135 ±7 cm, respectively, in the inner pools, most likely representing a man-made pavement. The terra rossa layer is overlaid by a unit rich in faunal remains dominated by euryhaline foraminifera and ostracod species such as Ammonia veneta and Cyprideis torosa, representing the saltworks unit. The flooding of the saltpans by the rising sea is manifested by the deposition of an upper sedimentary unit dominated by remains of marine species. The base and the top of the saltwork unit are dated by Optically Stimulated Luminescence to 1040±50 CE and to 1390±30 CE, respectively. The study presents a new approach for obtaining footprints of human activities in ancient, submerged saltpans, by identifying and dating the indicative anthropogenic layers and using these for the reconstruction of paleo sea-level. The described method can be applied all around the Mediterranean.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0287977
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7 July
StatePublished - Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes

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© 2023 Bechor et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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