|Flemming Nicholas, Cagatay M. Namik, Chiocci Francesco Latino, Galanidou Nena, Jons Hauke, Lericolais Gilles1, Missiaen Tine, Moore Fionnbarr, Rosentau Alar, Sakellariou Dimitris, Skar Brigitte, Stevenson Alan, Weerts Henk
|During the last one million years the land area of Europe was at times 40% larger than at present, and was usually 10-20% larger because of the global volumes of water locked up in ice-caps several kilometres thick on land. Our human precursors lived 200km inland from the coast of the Black Sea more than 1.5 million years ago, in northern Spain more than 1 million years ago, and on the British coast of the North Sea at least 800,000 years ago. Early tribes migrated from Africa through the Middle East, and then along the Mediterranean shore, as well as through central Europe, occupying northern territories when the ice melted and retreating southward when the ice expanded. These migrations across continental shelves, including the abandonment and re-occupation of ancient coastal plains, took place many times. Continental Shelf Prehistoric Research is a new integrated discipline linking the analysis of climate change, sea-level change, environmental conditions, and the prehistoric archaeology of peoples who lived on and migrated across the continental shelf, land now submerged beneath the sea. It requires collaboration between experts in the humanities and earth sciences, as well as collaboration with offshore industries such as hydrocarbons, wind farm installations, fishing, dredging, and channel maintenance. Modern technology in seabed acoustic survey, data acquisition, diving technology, data storage and predictive modelling make it feasible to envisage a proactive strategy which would have been impossible 10-20 years ago. Costs can be kept to a minimum by combining the initial surveys needed for Continental Shelf Prehistoric Research with those already being conducted for environmental impact assessment and national and regional environmental monitoring requirements. Europe leads the world in this research and it is imperative to consolidate and expand this advantage. The variable and partial traces of early humans found on land cannot be fully understood unless we can study and include the large proportion of data on the sea floor. Submerged sites include those that demonstrate the earliest stages of seafaring and exploitation of marine resources. Already more than 2,500 submerged prehistoric sites have been found and catalogued in the European seas mostly dating from 5,000-20,000 years old, with a few in the range of 20,000 to 350,000 years old. Organic materials such as wooden huts, canoes, paddles, rope, string, charcoal, and fish-traps that are found underwater are seldom found in dry-land sites of the same age. Several refereed books and articles on this topic have been published in recent years, and the number is growing exponentially. A vigorous community of researchers in this field has been established and the field has gained significant momentum which needs to be further developed. Public interest in the subject has been generated through TV programmes and frequent articles in the popular press. Additional discoveries on the seabed will provide new potential for museums and regional exhibits in coastal cities and tourist regions. As a substantial part of the European cultural heritage, seabed prehistory is covered by treaties and international agreements. Promoting this research at the scale of the European sea basins supports the objectives of the European Integrated Maritime Policy and its environmental pillar, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Through the development of macro-regional strategies (e.g. for the Baltic, Adriatic and Ionian Seas, and Europe’s Atlantic margin) the European Union has identified Europe’s sea basins as the most appropriate geographical scale for managing Europe’s marine territories and resources. In addition, this paper illustrates the importance of industry cooperation in the protection of maritime cultural heritage. Hence, the importance of aligning Continental Shelf Prehistoric Research with the EU’s Blue Growth agenda, while perhaps not initially obvious, becomes clear on further analysis. The Integrated Maritime Policy also places the use of common approaches to the implementation of Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) amongst EU Member and Associated States as a high priority. Already several coastal states have included seabed prehistoric site management in their MSP frameworks. By including in MSP seabed prehistoric sites and other submerged archaeological objects such as shipwrecks, offshore operators are saved the uncertainty that arises from discovery of sites when work has started and in this way management of cultural heritage resources becomes more efficient. But there are many challenges to achieving effective management and research of submerged prehistoric sites. Problems include the lack of recognition of the subject in archaeological training and university courses; damage to sites through natural erosion and climate change; industrial disturbance; the difficulty of integrating or accessing data across disciplinary boundaries or obtaining data of commercial origin; the lack of standards for best practice; few multi-national projects across state boundaries; the lack of specialized software for converting seabed acoustic data to reconstructions of terrestrial landscapes; the difficulty of creating a systematic understanding of the geoarchaeological processes that determine site survival; and the great range of different seabed environments in the different regional seas of Europe, ranging from rocky cliff or sediment-rich coasts, through enclosed sea basins and low-sediment rocky coasts in almost tideless clear waters. Critically, the protection of seabed prehistoric sites as cultural heritage is recognized by most coastal states, but the procedures for identification, assessment, survey, abandonment, protection, or excavation are still experimental and not fully developed. With respect to education and training, a few universities provide courses in which the subject is included, but seldom at an intensive level. Despite significant recent advances in marine survey and observation technologies, the demands of the new discipline for very high resolution acoustic data over wide areas create unusual requirements even by commercial standards. By working with industry, integrating data management with existing European projects, and improving accessibility to data, these problems can be significantly reduced. New technologies are specifically needed to confirm site existence within areas of high potential, possibly involving geochemical or other innovative techniques. A questionnaire survey of European national heritage agencies conducted by the working group in the process of producing this paper has established a list of archaeological objectives which are rated as the most important. Maintaining the momentum that has already been developed in this field will require multi-national collaboration supported by both national and European funding and policy. National agencies and the small number of universities currently involved cannot support the scale of activity that is required, or ensure compliance with existing treaties and legislation. The EU Horizon 2020 programme and the Joint Programming Initiatives are key programmes that are well placed to support the scale of collaborative research necessary to address the research goals outlined in the paper. In addition, the costs of ship time and advanced oceanographic technology can be optimized by collaboration between marine research agencies, industry, and the archaeological institutions. Continental Shelf Prehistoric Research needs to build on the experience and momentum of the COST Action, SPLASHCOS, to improve communication and collaboration between a growing community of scholars and to offer European experience and services globally. It is clear that despite the major progress that has been made in this broad and interactive research field, there is still much to be done to ensure that Europe’s submerged prehistoric cultural heritage is managed in an optimal way taking account of the needs of many stakeholders. The publication of this European Marine Board position paper provides a status report and needs assessment, which should help both research funders, the research community and policy makers to gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities we face in the next decade and beyond.