Zambratija: A 6000-year-old pile-dwelling submerged under the Adriatic Sea

Author: Katarina Jerbic

Jerbic, Katarina, 2020 Zambratija: A 6000-year-old pile-dwelling submerged under the Adriatic Sea, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis attempts to reconcile questions of human adaptations and interactions with changing climate events in the past, by using archaeological and environmental evidence from the submerged pile-dwelling in Zambratija Bay, Northwest Adriatic Sea. Discovered in 2008, Zambratija revealed stratified evidence of human activities in a paleo-landscape that was once terrestrial but is now submerged three metres under water. Due to the findings of wooden piles protruding out of the seabed alongside a platform of freshwater peat, all located on the outer edges of a submerged karstic sinkhole filled with sediments, the site was preliminary determined as a lacustrine pile-dwelling. Wooden piles and peat were accompanied by pottery typologically appropriated to local prehistory, which was later supported with radiocarbon dates implying the Late Neolithic period, around 4200 BC. The piles indicated an architectural resemblance to a building tradition known as the prehistoric pile-dwellings around the Alps, a UNESCO-protected network of 111 archaeological sites located across the glacier lakes in today’s Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland, which was in almost continuous use for more than 3000 years from the Late Neolithic to the Iron Age. Due to the specific anaerobic conditions which allowed for the preservation of organic material, these now submerged lacustrine settlements represent some of the most significant and well-researched archaeological sites in European prehistory. In addition to the submerged material culture found in Zambratija, the proximity of the site to the current Adriatic shoreline provided an indication of former sea-levels and a means to assess the local environmental history. The radiocarbon dates implied that the site was in use during the most recent global geological period, also known as the Holocene. The Holocene started around 9650 BC, when interdisciplinary records start showing a considerable increase of human impact to the environment, an interaction that is still ongoing and present in most contemporary climate change debates.

Considering the assumptions and issues drawn from the preliminary research, Zambratija Bay located submerged under the Adriatic Sea some 100 kilometres south of the Alpine lakes, represented an unexpected and unique challenge to the archaeological discipline and was therefore chosen to be the case study for the research presented in this thesis. The interdisciplinary PhD fieldwork was organised and performed on site in 2017, followed by further laboratory and desk-based work. The presented results, derived from 3 seabed sediment cores and 11 wooden pile samples from Zambratija Bay, answered relevant questions with not only local, but also broader implications regarding submerged archaeological research, European and World prehistory and modern-day climate change issues. As an addition to the original results, the thesis also suggests a methodological concept provisionally called Archaeology of the Core, which is based on applying basic archaeological excavation and post-excavation methods to seabed core samples.

Keywords: Mediterranean, prehistory, pile-dwellings, submerged archaeology, environmental archaeology, climate change archaeology

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Jonathan Benjamin