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Lost and future worlds: marine palaeolandscapes and the historic impact of long-term climate change

Scientific meeting

Starts:

May
152017

09:00

Ends:

May
162017

17:00

Location

Kavli Royal Society Centre, Chicheley Hall, Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, MK16 9JJ

Overview

Theo Murphy international scientific meeting organised by Professor Vincent Gaffney, Professor Geoff Bailey, Dr Richard Bates, Dr Philip Murgatroyd, Dr Eugene Ch'ng and Professor Robin G. Allaby.

A global problem: approximate areas of land loss following the last glacial maximum (S.Fitch).

Global warming following the last glacial maximum led to the global submergence of vast, populated landscapes. These largely unexplored lands hold a unique record of habitation linked to climate change.  Frequently inaccessible, and unamenable to conventional analysis, this meeting brings together experts across historical and scientific disciplines to identify new analytical methods and the contemporary relevance of these lost lands.

A draft programme (PDF) is available to download. The speaker biographies and abstracts will be available shortly. Recorded audio of the presentations will be available on this page after the meeting has taken place. 

Enquiries: Contact the Scientific Programmes team.

Event organisers

Select an organiser for more information

Schedule of talks

15 May

Chair: Dr Richard Bates 09:00-12:30

Session 1

4 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr Richard Bates, University of St Andrews

09:05-09:30 An odyssey: ancient coasts and waterlands

Professor Alice Roberts, University of Birmingham

Abstract

Alice Roberts explores the importance of coastal routes to our ancient ancestors, colonising the globe in the Palaeolithic, and looks at sites through prehistory which show how humans exploited and adapted to watery places, from Pinnacle Point in South Africa to the earliest humans in the Americas, and the Bronze and Iron Age landscapes of the Somerset levels and the Cambridgeshire Fens. Submerged landscapes hold the key to understanding so much about our ancestors, but can the ancients’ flexible approach to their environment also hold lessons for us, today?

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09:45-10:15 The devil is in the detail: palaeo-environments and logistics for calibrated regional modelling of prehistoric people living on now submerged continental shelf

Dr Nicholas Flemming, National Oceanography Centre

Abstract

Inundated and submerged prehistoric landscapes on the continental shelf have been studied internationally for decades, but, in the early years, only by individual scholars and local research groups.  The academic and political status of the topic has increased recently and the value of the research has been noted in the 72nd session of the Oceans and Law of the Sea report to the Secretary General of the United Nations for 2017. There are no formal national or multi-national commitments specifically to this research area, although numerous treaties, conventions and regional agreements are structured in such a way that submerged landscapes and prehistoric sites are included in their provisions. The definition of Underwater Cultural Heritage in the UNESCO Convention includes prehistoric sites, as does the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In Europe DG-MARE recognises the value of mapping submerged landscapes, and maps and data bases are being developed by EMODNet. The European Marine Board and the European Archaeology Council supported the publication of a joint report on the subject. Regional groups such as SINCOS and NSPRMF have supported work in the Baltic and the North Sea, while a longstanding sequence of INQUA-IGCP projects has been organised in the Black Sea. In the USA NOAA has a budget line for submerged landscapes, while the SPLASHCOS project supported by the COST Action Office integrated available data across the European seas with budget support for 4 years. As yet there are no permanent institutional or treaty-type commitments specifically aimed at supporting submerged landscape research, and this is a point of weakness. Everything still depends on individuals persuading their host institutions or agencies to provide support for the research. In spite of the high status of some of the support being provided, and the excellent research undertaken in many countries, the financial support is still minimal, and there are no long term commitments or funded institutions

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11:00-11:30 Reconstructing shorelines and landscapes during glacial cycles

Professor Kurt Lambeck, Australian National University

Abstract

Landscapes have evolved throughout geological time through a combination of geological and climatic processes. On the time scale of Homo sapiens the dominant physical changes in global landscapes are a consequence of the ice ages with their concomitant rise and fall in sea level and flooding and re-emergence of the continental shelfs and islands. Flood legends from many parts of the world attest that humans have attempted to explain their experiences of these changes within their framework of knowledge and the present discussion on the subject is one further step in that process. As ice sheets wax and wane, sea levels globally and on average, rise and fall in unison.  But the local or regional response can vary significantly from place to place due to the response of the planet to the redistribution of ice and water. The Earth deforms internally and surficially in response to these changes and the ocean surface re-adjusts to this new shape and associated changes in gravity.  This response is not instantaneous but lags behind the glacial cycle by amounts that are geography dependent. The result is a complex spatially and temporally variable global pattern of sea level change that cannot be adequately represented by simple concepts such as eustasy but one that contains important information on both the response of the Earth to forcing and of the glacial history. Such variability is indeed observed world-wide but the evidence is sufficiently incomplete and often imprecise to give a comprehensive description of this change. Thus physics-based models, founded in well-tested theories and observations from other geophysical and geological disciplines, have provided the means to interpolate between the disparate observations and to provide a predictive capability of sea level change and shoreline migration (always putting aside that the glacial cycle is not the only process that operates).  These models and their limitations will be discussed in this presentation, tested against observational evidence, and used to reconstruct coastal landscapes for some of the regions that may be relevant to some of the following presentations during this meeting.

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11:45-12:15 Mapping the land

Dr Tine Missiaen, Ghent University

Abstract

Very high resolution (VHR) seismic imaging of buried palaeolandscapes in the southern North Sea poses a number of problems. The often sandy sea floor induces strong multiples that may obscure the data especially in shallow water (<10-15 m). Detailed imaging below sand banks is difficult because the short wavelength sound waves are quickly absorbed in the heterogeneous sandy sediments. Intertidal areas furthermore add additional challenges due to highly variable water depth (0-5m), wave action and strong currents. Within the framework of the SeArch project (www.sea-arch.be) an efficient survey methodology was developed for archaeological prospection of the subtidal and intertidal area. In the subtidal area this was done through the comparison of a range of seismic sources (covering a wide range of the frequency spectrum) and receiver combinations. The results show that sparker sources generally provide the best trade-off between image resolution and penetration depth. Surprisingly, multichannel recording significantly improved the image resolution already for shallow target depths. In the intertidal area a novel technique based on multi-transducer parametric echosounding was applied. This resulted in ultra-high resolution 3D images of the shallow sub-bottom (cm/dm range). Grid cell sizes as small as 20x20cm allowed to identify buried features in unprecedented detail. This opens important new perspectives for archaeological prospection in shallow water areas.

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12:30-13:30

Lunch

Chair: Professor Nicky Milner 13:30-17:00

Session 2

4 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Professor Nicky Milner, University of York

13:30-14:00 Solving for the unknown: the dynamics of drowned archaeological landscapes and early marine resources use. Examples off northwestern Australia

Dr Ingrid Ward, Flinders University

Abstract

Occupation in Australia is now dated back to 50 ky BP, and for the bulk of this period sea level was lower than present.  Nearly one-third of Australia’s landmass, hence a significant part of the archaeological record, was drowned by the post-glacial transgression. Despite this, research aimed at finding submerged prehistoric archaeology on the drowned shelf is only just beginning. Over the next few years, a pioneering, multi-disciplinary study of submerged landscape archaeology will investigate the records of the now-submerged Pilbara coast in NW Australia (spanning 50 to 7 ky BP) and contribute a unique southern hemisphere insight into world prehistory.  For Australia’s NW Shelf, knowledge is increasing rapidly on its preserved drowned palaeoshorelines through use of high-resolution remote sensing data, palaeotidal and 3D modelling.  Computer-based visualisations, which overlay relative post-glacial sea levels on the modern bathymetry, help conceptual understanding of the changing coastal landscape.  However, the past development of coastal resources, their potential human use and the preservation of this in the archaeological record is primarily controlled not by sea level per se but by second and third-order effects associated with variations in coastal sedimentary environments.  Considering such physical processes in archaeological thinking will help and improve targeted prospection of submerged cultural sites, and will help stimulate new ways to include such information in conceptual models of human occupation and help us solve for the unknown.

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14:15-14:45 The Bering Land Bridge during the last glacial maximum: a good place to live?

Dr Nancy Bigelow, University of Alaska

Abstract

Human DNA evidence of living populations suggests that between ~30,000 and ~15,000 yr BP, people paused in their migration into the New World from Siberia.  Where did they pause? Was the now-submerged Bering Land Bridge (BLB) a suitable place to live?  Vegetation reconstructions based on a variety of proxies (pollen, plant macrofossils, aDNA) indicate wide-spread herb-dominated tundra on the BLB, though there is intriguing evidence that woody taxa may have been more abundant than is generally assumed. Full glacial and late glacial pollen distribution maps from across Beringia, of which the BLB is only the central region, suggest in situ expansion of key taxa (cottonwood/aspen, spruce, pine, birch, and alder) and not migration from outside the region.  In addition, DNA results on modern spruce indicate long isolation of Alaskan populations from those growing south of the Laurentide ice sheet, suggesting that some Alaskan populations could have survived the last glacial age in Beringia.  Finally, some localities on the BLB may have been somewhat mesic, thus providing suitable habitat for the woody taxa to occupy.  However, issues with chronology, site taphonomy, and pollen-vegetation linkages do cloud the issue.  This presentation summarises current data on the BLB and adjacent regions and presents the pros and cons of the BLB as a suitable landscape for long-term human occupation.

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15:30-16:00 Pathways to Ancient Britain

Dr Rachel Bynoe, University of Southampton

Abstract

The Pleistocene occupation of northwest Europe occurred during a period characterised by significant climatic changes. In Britain, hominin populations were present discontinuously through varied climates, from cool continental sites such as Happisburgh 1 and 3, to the balmy Mediterranean conditions of Pakefield. Whilst apparently able to survive through a range of conditions, the configuration of these landscapes, in particular the presence or absence of a land connection with the continent, would have had a fundamental impact on the density of hominin occupation in Britain at any given time. Similarly, the ecologies once present in the now-drowned North Sea Basin and Channel regions would presumably have played an important role in attracting and sustaining sporadic hominin populations. However, our understanding of the physical and environmental character of these landscapes, as well as the timing of transgressive and regressive periods, remains frustratingly murky, hindering the ability to imagine how these landscapes may have been used. A growing body of data from recent research and commercial offshore development is, however, beginning to address this issue: we can now start to piece together a more coherent picture of landscapes through time, but there is still an immense amount of work to do. By drawing some of this recent work together, this paper will discuss the potential configuration of these landscapes throughout the Pleistocene, the impact of fluctuating climatic changes upon them and the resulting implications for the hominins they sustained.

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16:15-16:45 Beringia and the Arctic: submerged landscapes and receding glaciers

Professor Emeritus E. James Dixon, University of New Mexico

Abstract

Events following the last glacial maximum (LGM) in high latitudes of North America illustrate the “push–pull” impacts of rising sea level and glacial recession on human and biotic communities.  These forcing mechanisms transformed northern North America resulting in: 1) separating the vast land connection between Asia and North America, 2) joining the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, 3) landward retreat (push) of human and near-shore biotic communities in response to rising sea level, and 4) the colonization (pull) of biota and humans in newly deglaciated regions.  Understanding and quantifying the timing and mechanisms of this dramatic reconfiguration of North America provides insights for the application of complex systems modeling to geographically predict and scale future “push-pull” events likely to result from climate change.

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16 May

Chair: Professor Chris Stringer 09:00-12:30

Session 3

4 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Professor Chris Stringer FRS, Natural History Museum, UK

09:00-09:30 Climate, sea level change, coastline migration and human adaptive strategies in the Black Sea region

Professor Valentina Yanko, Odessa University

Abstract

This presentation focuses on the study of the evolution and interrelationship of the environment and prehistoric populations in the northwestern part of the Black Sea during last 30 kyr.  At the LGM (27–17 ka BP), when the level of the Early Neoeuxinian lake was at least 100 m BSL on the northwestern coast, we would expect Upper Paleolithic sites to be located within the deep valleys of small rivers. These valleys were flooded in the course of the Late Neoeuxinian transgression (17–10 ka BP); however, they are well expressed geomorphologically and can be easily traced on the present Black Sea shelf. This topographic information can be used to search for submerged Upper Paleolithic sites on the shelf, thereby helping to locate evidence for the transition among ancient human groups from hunting large herd animals to small non-gregarious species. The beginning of the Mediterranean transgression occurred around 9.5 ka BP. Both the transgression and faunal migration occurred over the course of six transgressive-regressive stages. Mesolithic sites continued to be located along river valleys; they bear some evidence of the transition from hunting to gathering of edible plants. No signs of catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea in the Early Holocene have been found (Yanko-Hombach et al. 2013). Geoarchaeological modeling of the northwestern Black Sea region over 30 kyr with respect to paleoenvironment and settlement pattern mapping enabled to shed light on submerged prehistoric site prospecting.

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09:45-10:15 'Through Sunda to Sahul' and look at sea level human dispersal issues in island South East Asia

Professor Michael Bird, James Cook University

Abstract

Anatomically Modern Humans (AMHs) dispersed rapidly through Sunda, Wallacea and across much of Sahul (Australia and New Guinea joined at times of lowered sea level) by around 50,000 years ago. The establishment of a viable founder population in Sahul from the islands of Wallacea necessarily involved several prior water crossings. Multiple routes through Wallacea to Sahul have been proposed and all involve at least one open ocean, multi-day voyage approaching 100 km. This paper will first consider the constraints and opportunities imposed by the palaeoenvironments and palaeogeography of the region at the time of human dispersal. It will present new high-resolution bathymetry and drift simulation evidence that a purposeful crossing between inter-visible locations was likely from Timor-Roti to islands exposed by lowered sea level, from which Sahul itself was readily accessible. The crossing required an open ocean journey of 3-6 days. Consideration of the genetic evidence suggests this founder population numbered at least ~50 individuals. We further suggest the possibility that two broadly synchronous arrivals of genetically divergent populations occurred, one from the south (Timor to northwest Australia) and one from the north (via the Bird’s Head Peninsula into New Guinea). We finally review the evidence for colonization routes into Sahul itself.

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11:00-11:30 Archaeogenetics

Professor Martin Richards, University of Huddersfield, UK

Abstract

Phylogeography is an approach to genetic data that combines a phylogenetic tree of non-recombining genetic lineages with the ographical distribution of the lineages and an estimated time depth using the molecular clock – increasingly supported by direct evidence from ancient DNA. The approach was initially applied to the maternally inherited human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) but has been applied with increasing success in recent years to Y-chromosome variation, which can now be assessed in great detail at the level of very large stretches of sequence data, and is in principle applicable as well to non-recombining haplotype blocks within the rest of the human genome. The results from mtDNA (in contrast to those from the Y chromosome) have frequently been interpreted in terms of the demographic impact of climate change: many European lineages seem to have been dispersed from refugia with the warming after the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, and many in Southeast Asia seem to have spread as a result of sea-level changes in the early Holocene. Moreover, the initial settlement of Eurasia and Australasia, proposed from mtDNA evidence to have been initially via the southern coastal route out of Africa, and events leading to it within central and eastern Africa, may have been a response to climatic processes at that time. This talk will explain and discuss the evidence for each of these processes and suggest avenues for further investigation.

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11:45-12:15 Reconstructing palaeoenvironments from sedaDNA

Dr Roselyn Ware, University of Warwick

Abstract

Typical sources of ancient DNA, such as plant and animal remains, are often very limited in the archaeological record, and thus are highly valuable. The ubiquity of sources of sediment, from which sediment DNA (sedaDNA) can be extracted, and the favourable conditions for DNA preservation provided by some sediment types has led to an increase its exploitation as a source of aDNA. sedaDNA can be used as a tool for the reconstruction of palaeoenvironements, including the study of human-environment interactions, changes in environmental conditions, and of mass floral or faunal extinction events. 

Here we will use the work we are currently undertaking on sediment cores from Doggerland to discuss not only the limitations and challenges involved when working with sedaDNA, but also the power and relative merits of the approaches we can use. We will also demonstrate the benefits of using a variety of complimentary methods, in addition to sedaDNA approaches. These should be used in order to guide study design and, crucially, in the contextualisation and validation of findings. 

The exploitation of sedaDNA has tremendous scope not just for expanding our understanding of human-environment interactions as in this study, but as a tool that can, potentially, be applied worldwide. 

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12:30-13:30

Lunch

Chair: Professor Robin G. Allaby 13:30-17:00

Session 4

4 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Professor Robin G. Allaby, University of Warwick

13:30-14:00 Modelling past climate impacts on societies: how far can we extend methods developed and lessons learned in the upland US Southwest?

Regents Professor Tim Kohler, Washington State University and Santa Fe Institute

Abstract

This talk will briefly review recent empirical and deductive modeling efforts aimed at understanding pre-Hispanic history and land use in the US Southwest. These include, first, maize-niche modeling on an annual scale that places the time series of tree-ring dates available for this region in the temporal and spatial contexts of the simultaneous location of the niche for rainfall-fed farming. This reveals eight episodes that we refer to as periods of “exploration” and “exploitation,” each several generations in length. Second, I refer to current work derived from the Village Ecodynamics Project to place agents representing households on productivity landscapes and challenge them with various problems, including how to cope with growing populations and potentially hostile neighbors. Third, if time permits, I demonstrate current research of the SKOPE project that is working to make paleoenvironmental data at high temporal and spatial resolutions readily available to archaeologists working in the Southwest…and perhaps elsewhere.

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14:15-14:45 Strategies for scalable agent-based modelling, simulation and visualisation of large spatial-temporal palaeolandscapes

Dr Eugene Ch'ng, University of Nottingham Ningbo China

Abstract

The modelling, mapping and analysis of massive terrestrial and marine palaeolandscape ecology, environmental change and population movement  spanning hundreds of thousands of km2 and involving hundreds of millions of agents (flora, fauna, people, environment factors) using complex systems science approach have implications for real-world discovery and applications. However, the greatest barrier to realising massive agent-based modelling is the computational resources required to store and simulate the interactions of agents, and agents with the environment within 3D terrains. In this talk we propose and discuss High Performance Computing techniques that can potentially simulate hypothetical models of massive ecological scenarios spanning large spatial (1 ~ 100K km2) and temporal (-20,000 ~ 1,000 years) scales. The focus will be on strategies in modelling palaeoenvironmemt scenarios, including model resolution of complex systems, foundations for the simulation of the fine resolution of the dynamics, behaviour, preferences, interaction and n-tiered trophic networks, including the simulated environments they inhabit in line with the computational aspects of parallel processing and visualisation.

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15:30-16:00 Sea-levels change, submerged landscapes and world prehistory

Professor Geoff Bailey, University of York

Abstract

The best understood impact of sea level change on the archaeological record is one of destruction. Since it is increasingly obvious that some evidence of now-submerged prehistoric landscapes and archaeology has survived inundation, it would be more accurate to say that sea-level change is a major variable in distorting the underwater record because of differential burial, preservation, exposure and visibility. In its formative stage as a new discipline, submerged landscape prehistory has naturally been preoccupied with where and how to find the evidence. As the cumulative body of information grows, so attention is now turning to the questions that can be posed, and what difference the answers can make to our understanding of developments in human evolution and world prehistory. These include (a) an understanding that differential preservation and visibility, so obvious when working under water, applies universally to archaeological interpretation whether above or below the sea, and undermines cultural and evolutionary models that ignore this factor; (b) discovery of now-submerged terrestrial landscapes and human adaptations to them that have no analogue on land; (c) evidence for earlier dates and different dispersal patterns on the major inter-continental pathways of early human global expansion; (d) an understanding that coastal environments are dynamic and continuously changing landscapes (and seascapes) that have repeatedly attracted and challenged past human populations, as today, and a sharper focus on past human responses to these challenges; (e) data on past shorelines that can feed into improved models of future sea-level change and its human impact.

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16:15-17:00 Chaired panel discussion

Professor Vincent Gaffney, University of Bradford

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Lost and future worlds: marine palaeolandscapes and the historic impact of long-term climate change

Theo Murphy international scientific meeting organsied by Professor Vincent Gaffney, Professor Geoff Bailey, Dr Richard Bailey, Dr Philip Murgatroyd, Dr Eugene Ch'ng and Professor Robin G. Allaby.

Kavli Royal Society Centre, Chicheley Hall Newport Pagnell Buckinghamshire MK16 9JJ
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