Undersea scans of Adriatic Sea reveal details of sunken landscape

Undersea scans of Adriatic Sea reveal details of sunken landscape

The Adriatic Sea off Croatia’s coast has revealed remarkable discoveries through pioneering high-resolution archaeological underwater scans. These scans unveil an intricate network of streams, rivers and geological formations, all once above water.

This groundbreaking work stems from the collaborative Life on the Edge project, uniting the University of Bradford’s Submerged Landscapes Research Centre and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Split. Over the next five years, expeditions will meticulously map sections of the Adriatic and North Sea as they existed between 10,000 and 24,000 years ago, during a period when sea levels were approximately 100 metres lower than today.

Principal investigator Simon Fitch described the findings as astonishing. He stated: “The results provided way more detail than we were expecting. It’s a more diverse landscape and it’s better preserved than we expected. The unique environment of the area around Split, which is quite sheltered, has preserved a lot of it. There are beautifully preserved rivers and estuaries buried beneath what is now the seafloor.”

Advanced 3D seismic sensors

Vedran Barbarić, associate professor from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Split, commented: “The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Split is proud to be a part of this project. None of the previous archaeological projects that have been carried out at our faculty have had this level of collaborative research, so this will enable the valuable transfer of knowledge and help with building our capacities. I am certain that the project results will become a landmark in our knowledge on dramatic environmental changes and the human reaction to those in this part of the world.”

Fitch travelled to Croatia in March 2023 to undertake the first ever underwater scans using state-of-the-art underwater 3D seismic sensors and revealed the results at a public lecture in Split on 10 May. He said: “Previous modelling suggested there may be a river on the seabed, but when we went in with our high-resolution sensors we found more rivers, more water in the landscape and more environments. That’s amazing, because it suggests it is more likely that people lived there.”

“These results will help us understand Croatia’s place in the Adriatic. Croatia is the gateway to Europe, so if you think about the advance of farming into Europe, it is and always has been a very important landscape,” Barbarić added.

Safeguarding landscapes

The swiftness with which the landscape succumbed to the sea holds considerable significance, affecting both people and culture. By unravelling the complexities of this vanished terrain, a clearer understanding of the broader archaeological context emerges.

Coastal regions, often favoured for habitation, are disproportionately impacted by erosion and submersion. Currently, remnants from these areas are scarce, limited to a handful of cave sites and scattered flint artifacts. Identifying and safeguarding these landscapes and archaeological sites opens avenues for probing inquiries, deepening comprehension of archaeology and culture in a holistic manner.

The overarching goal is the discovery of human artifacts. Enhanced insight into the landscape markedly increases the likelihood of achieving this objective.

Fitch’s Life on the Edge project, funded by a UKRI future leaders fellowship and supported by UKRI funding, VLIZ ship time and a university PhD studentship, involves partner institutions such as the University of St Andrews and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Split. The expedition, spanning the Adriatic and North Sea, involves archaeologists from Bradford and collaborators from the University of Split, working alongside commercial entities mapping seabeds for wind farm installations. Utilizing advanced supercomputers at the University of Bradford, the project processes vast datasets to create detailed maps revealing lost landscapes, including ancient river paths and geographical features.

The University of Bradford’s Faculty of Life Sciences has one of the largest submerged landscapes research groups in the world and is one of the few places specializing in what is an emerging academic discipline.

For more information, see here.

A Croatian flag on the ferry as it leaves the port of Split on the Adriatic Sea. Pioneering high-resolution archaeological underwater scans off Croatia’s coast have revealed remarkable discoveries in the Adriatic Sea. (Image courtesy: Dronepicr, Wikimedia Commons/Flickr)
Hydrography Newsletter

Value staying current with hydrography?

Stay on the map with our expertly curated newsletters.

We provide educational insights, industry updates, and inspiring stories from the world of hydrography to help you learn, grow, and navigate your field with confidence. Don't miss out - subscribe today and ensure you're always informed, educated, and inspired by the latest in hydrographic technology and research.

Choose your newsletter(s)