Archaeologists to study 10,000 years of climate change off Israel’s coast

A specific characteristic of the joint project is that it will combine archaeological and environmental studies.

Nearshore excavation with newly developed barge system at Biblical port of Tel Dor, Israel.  (photo credit: ANTHONY TAMBERINO/ SCMA)
Nearshore excavation with newly developed barge system at Biblical port of Tel Dor, Israel.
Climate change and variations of sea level have been affecting the planet and humanity for thousands of years. In a time when these changes are accelerated by the global warming process that has been affecting our planet, understanding what happened in the past and how communities have coped with it represents a crucial challenge.
This is one of the goals of a project carried out in cooperation between UC San Diego’s Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology (SCMA) and the University of Haifa’s Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies, which has just been awarded a $1.3 million grant by the Koret Foundation, UC San Diego announced last Friday.
The two institutions are partnering to explore the social effects of 10,000 years of climate change off of the Carmel coast.
“Our project is to find out about human adaptation to climate as well as political changes in connection to the sea beginning with the Neolithic period, or some 10,000 years ago, and ending more or less now,” Recanati Institute director Assaf Yasur-Landau told The Jerusalem Post.
Their expeditions will focus on the area of ancient Dor, which features an underwater site from the Neolithic period and continued to be inhabited until the Byzantine period and even later in the Crusaders period, he said.
“Our study concentrates on harbors. We have a harbor dating back to the Iron Age used by the Phoenicians, one from the Hellenistic period from the time of the Hasmoneans and anchorages used in the Roman period, the Byzantine one and in the early Islamic period all the way to the Crusaders,” Yasur-Landau said.
The joint project will combine archaeological and environmental studies,  UC San Diego Anthropology Department Prof. Thomas Levy, co-director of SCMA, told the Post. Israel’s coast offers the perfect setting for this endeavor, he said.
“Israel is the land bridge between the continent of Africa and southwest Asia, so from the earliest beginnings of the emerging of modern humans and even before that, people have been passing through this area,” Levy said.
“This is an extremely rich locale to study how humans adapt to coastal environments, which are some of the most sensitive areas to issues of climate and environmental change,” he said. “The waters of Israel along the Mediterranean are a wonderful paleo-environmental archive of the past.”
Levy also highlighted the opportunity offered by the cooperation with the University of Haifa.
“Here at UC San Diego, we only started marine archaeology in 2016, so we really wanted to acquire the tools of underwater excavation,” he said. “The University of Haifa is one of the pioneers in the world in the field, with over 50 years of experience. We thought they would be the perfect partner for us.”
While many marine archaeology centers focus on the excavation of shipwrecks, SCMA is working to develop the ability to harness the latest tools of environmental science to study climate change in relation to social evolution, Levy said.
“This is where we are bringing the strength of our Institute of Oceanography with our environmental approach to marine archaeology,” he said.
San Diego and Haifa have been working together for the past two years. But the grant will give them the opportunity to organize a marine archaeology field school for undergraduate and graduate students for the next three summers, as well as some intensive fieldwork expeditions.
“We will be coming at least twice a year for the next three years,” Levy said. “It is very exciting.”
“The Koret Foundation is thrilled to support this groundbreaking partnership between two world-class academic institutions as they make new discoveries to benefit all humankind,” Koret Foundation president Anita Friedman said in a press release. “This partnership will further strengthen the bonds between the US and Israel, reinforcing the close ties between our two countries to respond to some of today’s most pressing environmental issues.”
The foundation describes itself as a private, Bay Area-based institution “grounded in historical Jewish principles and traditions and dedicated to humanitarian values” and devoted “to elevating the quality of life in the Bay Area, and to strengthening the Jewish community in the US, Israel and around the world.”