Coastal erosion threatening archaeological remains in Rousay, Orkney

Archaeology, Climate and Environment

Archaeology has always been closely associated with changes in the climate and the environment. Since the first human species walked the earth there have been massive alterations in the climate and vast changes in the landscape and sea levels.

10,000 years ago Britain was still joined to the European mainland, and a whole area of settlement – known to archaeologists as ‘Doggerland’ – now  lies under the sea.

In more recent times, archaeological sites have been severely damaged by coastal erosion. For example, several Roman sites in South East England have been partly destroyed as the sea encroaches on the land.

Nowadays, with the vastly accelerating change in the climate, archaeological sites are coming under increasing threat and resources are being strained to the upmost in the attempt to record valuable material before it disappears. This site sets out to tell the story…


During the Mesolithic period (c. 10,000 to 8,000 BC) Britain was connected to Mainland Europe. Under what is now the North Sea was an area of rolling hills, wooded valleys, marshland, and swampy lagoons. The people who lived in this area were hunter-gatherers – migratory people who lived by hunting, fishing and gathering wild food such as berries and hazelnuts.

As the climate became warmer, glacial melting started to flood low-lying areas such as Doggerland. Some 8,200 years ago, the rapid melting of a North American glacial lake and a tsunami totally inundated the whole area.


Reculver is the site of Regulbium, one of the Roman forts of the Saxon Shore. The first Roman military site in the area was a small fort that was built directly after the Roman invasion of Britain and was connected by road to Durovernum (Canterbury). This earthwork structure was later surrounded by a larger stone fortification in the early 3rd century.

In the second half of the seventh century, an Anglo-Saxon monastic church was built within the enclosure of the fort. This church, with later additions, continued in use until its demolition in the early 19th century.

Coastal erosion has removed a great deal of the fort, and the site is now protected by a sea wall.

Archaeology, Climate and Environment Today

The effects of climate change are having a drastic effect on archaeological sites throughout the world. One major aspect of this is the melting of glaciers which have preserved thousands of years of archaeological material in the ice. Much of this material is of organic nature, which would not normally be preserved in normal archaeological conditions. Once the ice melts these objects will quickly deteriorate, so that there is a race against time to save them

Photo: Espen Finstad,

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