Planet Earth

Archaeology and Sea Level Rise

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorNov 15, 2010 3:23 PM


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Yesterday, Justin Gillis published an excellent front page NYT article on climate change and sea level rise. Of course, the tone wasn't catastrophic enough for this guy, but he's never happy unless the story pummels the reader into "hell and high water" submission. Today, Gillis blogs on an interesting side note to his main piece:

Archaeological discoveries that shed light on ancient sea level are prized finds for the experts in this field. One of the most compelling studies of recent years was carried out by an Australian scientist named Kurt Lambeck, who worked with colleagues in Italy. They focused on ancient fish tanks built at the edge of the Mediterranean by the Romans over the 300 years when their civilization was at its height, ending in the second century A.D. These tanks were sometimes decorative, but mostly they were used as storage pens to keep fish fresh for the lavish banquets that wealthy Romans held in their seaside villas. The tanks, described in some detail by Roman historians, have long fired the imaginations of classicists, since they represent Roman civilization at its decadent height. The tanks made an appearance in the popular Robert Harris novel "Pompeii," for instance. The tanks were usually carved into rock at the edge of the shore and constructed in such a way that some of their features bore precise relationships to sea level at the time. For instance, walls and sluice gates had to be built to let water into the tanks while keeping fish from escaping at high tide. A few years ago, Dr. Lambeck, of the Australian National University, and his team realized that these features could be used to arrive at an estimate of sea level in the time of the Romans.

Both pieces by Gillis are well worth reading.

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