Open Access! A city against the current: A reconstruction of Holocene sea-level changes and the evolution of coastal landscapes in ancient Abdera (Thrace, Gr.)

New paper unveils the Northern Aegean’s history and geography with unprecedented detail. The study presents the first comprehensive Relative Mean Sea-Level curve for the region, exposing Neolithic drowned landscapes along the coast.

Alfredo Mayoral, Ana Ejarque, Arnau Garcia-Molsosa, Mercourios Georgiadis, Giannis Apostolou, Vincent Gaertner, Constantina Kallintzi, Eurydice Kefalidou, Hèctor Orengo. A city against the current: A reconstruction of Holocene sea-level changes and the evolution of coastal landscapes in ancient Abdera (Thrace, Gr.), CATENA, Volume 235, 2024, 107638, ISSN 0341-8162,


This paper presents an integrated Geoarchaeological approach to Holocene landscape change and socio-environmental interaction around ancient Abdera, a Greek colony in Aegean Thrace. A combination of remote sensing, geomorphological mapping, sedimentary coring, and radiocarbon dating was used to build the first detailed Holocene sea-level curve in the Northern Aegean, and to reconstruct the palaeogeographic evolution around Abdera from the Neolithic onwards. The discussion of these results, alongside the available archaeo-historical data, sheds new light on the role of historical and environmental factors in the rise and eventual decline of Abdera, thereby challenging previous narratives. This study is the first to detect evidence of the Neolithic landscapes in this coastal area being submerged by marine transgression c. 5000 cal. BC. A lagoonal landscape developed from the Neolithic until Greek colonists settled in the area c. 654 BC. The results presented here suggest that the relocation of the city in the 4th century BC was not caused by the silting up of the bay but was due to historical events. The coastal progradation only became significant after 300 cal. BC and accelerated in the following centuries. Based on the data acquired, it is hypothesized that this was due to anthropogenic forcing of the sedimentary systems both at local and regional levels, caused by the development of the productive activities of the colony. The evidence presented here demonstrates that while Abdera retained good access to the sea, its decline in the 4th c. AD was certainly due to the gradual shift of the economic axis inland. By 400 cal. AD the coastline was very close to its current position. The results of this study also add to the catalogue of known tsunamis in the Northern Aegean, by providing new evidence of a tsunami on this section of the Thracian coast in 544 AD.

Funding and acknowledgements

This research has been funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities within the project TransLands (PGC2018-093734-B-I00). Alfredo Mayoral is a Juan de la Cierva-Incorporación Fellow of the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation, and Universities (IJC2020-045609-I); Arnau García-Molsosa is a Beatriu de Pinós Fellow of the Catalan Autonomous Government (2018 BP 00208); Mercourios Georgiadis is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow leading the project TransMed (H2020-MSCA-IF-2018-8396). The authors also want to acknowledge the support of the Ephorate of Xanthi, the Archaeological Museum of Abdera, and the Greek Ministry of Culture through the APAX programme. We are also grateful to a number of people who provided support for this article: Jean-François Berger, Oldrich Navratil, Olivier Voldoire, Rena Veropoulidou, Maxime Burst, Santiago Riera, Raphaël Paris, Konstantina Venieri, Alexandra Livarda, Josep María Palet, and Laura Benedito. Finally, we express our sincere thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their remarks and critical reading of the manuscript.

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