The SEA as a Long term socio-ecological EXperiment
Financeur du programme
The impact of rapid climate changes on contemporary coastal human populations is of global concern. To contextualize our understanding of human responses to Holocene and Anthropocene climate changes, it is necessary to examine in parallel (i) the historical and archeological records and (ii) the nature and the timing of past environmental changes. The SeaLex project aims at contributing significantly to the contemporary societal debate about the impacts of climate changes on coastal human populations through a retrospective view of the long-term trajectories of socio-ecosystems, especially in terms of social adaptability and resilience, from the start of the Holocene to present-day along the land-sea continuum in several relevant North Atlantic Ocean coastal areas.
SeaLex project will build and consolidate an original interdisciplinary consortium of scientists working within the Isblue research teams and beyond, by a real integration of Natural sciences, Humanities and engineering skills existing at the University of Brest. In addition to the International Research Network “PrehCOAST” for “Coast‐inland dynamics in prehistoric hunter‐gatherer societies” (IRN from the CNRS, coord. Grégor Marchand, stated in 2019) in which Brest is involved, numerous collaborations considered in the SeaLex project will soon become currently effective, especially with Canadian teams from Québec (ULAVAL, UQAR) around St Pierre and Miquelon future works (detailed thereafter in this project). So far, only a few initiatives combining paleoenvironmental and archaeological approaches stayed limited to the LTSER Zone Atelier Brest-Iroise, and restricted to the Neolithic/Bronze Age periods of the Molène Archipelago territory. Also, supported from 2020 by the ARMERIE program (funded by the UBO, coord. Yvan Pailler), the SeaLex project wants to integrate historians, linguists, and archaeologists working on cultural changes over a long time span to explore a large range of cultural archives.
This interdisciplinary approach of the long-term human-environmental interactions need to transcend the traditional boundaries between disciplines by producing new concepts and paradigms. Only few research teams in Europe currently work on the long-term human-environmental interactions. We plan to create strong research links with the universities of Kiel and Cadiz (identified as leaders in Europe). The use of virtual reality tools (CERV) to propose realistic reconstructions of past environmental and cultural changes is a very innovative point of the project with exciting perspectives in terms of economic and cultural development (enhancement of cultural heritage, scientific mediation, creation of video games). Finally, the SeaLex project will strengthen the ISblue training strategy by the creation of new courses for Licence, Master and PhD students.
The impact of rapid climate changes on contemporary coastal human populations is of global concern. the impact of human activities on landscapes and, by extension, on near-continent sea-surface water characteristics having increased over the last thousand years and more intensively for 4 ka in western France (e.g., Fernane et al., 2014, 2015; Penaud et al., 2020). To contextualize our understanding of human responses to Holocene and Anthropocene climate environmental natural or anthropogenic changes (Ruddiman et al., 2016), it is necessary to examine in parallel: (i) the historical and archeological records and (ii) the nature and the timing of past coastal changes. Paleosciences are able to contribute significantly to the contemporary societal debate about the impacts of climate changes on coastal human populations through a retrospective view of the long-term trajectories of socio-ecosystems, especially in terms of social adaptability and resilience. Moreover, it is crucial to document and understand the impact of past human activities on natural landscapes, erosion processes, coastal resources, geomorphological changes, as well as the respective part of environmental changes (paleogeographical changes: Stephan et al., 2019; sea level rise: e.g., Garcia-Artola et al., 2018; storm events: e.g., Pouzet et al., 2018; water quality: e.g., Lambert et al., 2017, 2018; means of subsistence: e.g., Pailler and Nicolas, 2019) on the development or decline of coastal societies since the Neolithic (starting point of the human permanent occupation along the European coasts).
The SeaLex project aims at understanding the links between climate - environment - societies from the start of the Holocene to present-day along the land-sea continuum in several relevant coastal areas of the North Atlantic Ocean by : i) consolidating and improving recent promising approaches in the temperate NE Atlantic Ocean (cf. Penaud et al., 2020 for the northern Bay of Biscay) and ii) emerging new studies in the western Atlantic Ocean through new international collaborations and works planned around the St Pierre et Miquelon archipelago (ULAVAL, UQAR). This requires to gather specialists of coastal archaeology and history, geomorphological and sea-level changes, paleoclimatology and paleoecology, bio-geochemistry, as well as physicians able to simulate past environments taking into account all sources of information that sediment archives can provide behind the pluri-decadal coverage provided by instrumental data, in order to provide robust projections for the future. This project is thus obviously interdisciplinary with multiple units from ISBLUE (LETG, LGO, LOPS, CERV-ENIB) and non-ISBLUE French partners (CRBC, INRAP) as well as international partners already structured in the International Research Network IRN “PrehCOAST” and Canadian partners already contacted for the western Atlantic side.
Despite the strong expertise of the research teams involved regarding the reconstruction of past environmental coastal changes, it is still impossible to thoroughly discuss the impact of climate changes on coastal societies, and vice versa. This is due to (i) the lack of structured and harmonized dataset on ancient human occupations (cf. WP1), (ii) the low degrees of interaction between humanities, environmental and engineering sciences (WP1 to WP4), and (iii) the lack of data on the nature of changes (in terms of landscape transformation, dynamics of vegetation, marine floods) and their low chronological accuracy (cf. WP2 and WP3). Although paleosciences have never accumulated so much data on the Holocene, the interdisciplinary approach advocated by the SeaLex project is rarely conducted in such an integrative way. The SeaLex project has then the ambition to create real interactions within researchers in order to produce intelligible results that will also be transferred to the society by using virtual reality tools (WP4). These tools are envisaged as a means of visualizing palaeogeographic and cultural changes over time and of enhancing coastal cultural heritage.
The SeaLex project will build and consolidate an original interdisciplinary consortium of scientists working within the Isblue research teams and beyond, by a real integration of Natural sciences, Humanities and engineering skills available at the University of Brest. So far, only a few initiatives to cross paleoenvironmental and archaeological approaches stayed limited to the LTSER Zone Atelier Brest-Iroise, and restricted to the Neolithic/Bronze Age periods of the Molène Archipelago territory (Pailler and Nicolas, 2019). Here, we want to integrate historians, linguists, and archaeologists working on cultural changes over a large timespan to explore a large range of cultural archives. This interdisciplinary approach of the long-term human-environmental interactions need to transcend the traditional boundaries between disciplines by producing new concepts and paradigms. The use of virtual reality tools to propose realistic reconstructions of past environmental and cultural changes is another very innovative point of the project with exciting perspectives in terms of economic and cultural development (enhancement of cultural heritage, scientific mediation, creation of video games). Only few research teams in Europe currently work on the long-term human-environmental interactions. In a position of leader, we can cite the University of Kiel which gathers about 75 people (including professors, engineers, PhDs) within the laboratory CRC1268 “Scales of Transformation: Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies”. We can also note the initiative of the University of Cádiz which has recently created a priority line for training and research in nautical and underwater archeology, in collaboration with the Campus of International Excellence of the Sea (CEI.Mar). During last years, other similar initiatives are being launched with less ambition in Europe's coastal universities.
Coastal zones, densely populated today with more and more exposed infrastructures to natural hazards, and especially sandy shorelines, are increasingly subject to erosion. The growing risk of marine submersion in low-lying areas has for many years led to the societal question of the processes responsible for coastal mobility as well as for terrestrial and marine ecosystem changes. Main factors responsible for landscape coastal changes include rising sea-level, storminess regimes, natural modes of atmospheric and oceanic oscillations, and also direct human impacts on watersheds and coastal environments (deforestation, exploitation of natural resources, dwelling and traffic routes, agro-pastoral activities, heating and living comfort…). This knowledge can be greatly increased by going back to the recent past (the last centuries and millennia) to look for situations comparable to the present. For example, sea level rise is a global concern. Over the past two decades, the Brest tide gauge has recorded elevation rates not seen since its installation three centuries ago. Geological data indicate that it is necessary to go back 6,000 years BP to encounter rates similar to the current situation. How can we estimate the impact of the future sea-level rise on the coastal zones in terms of erosion and sedimentation, shoreline changes, transformation of landscapes and environments? Predictive modelling tools are often the preferred approach despite the many limitations related to the complexity of coastal hydrosedimentary processes and the numerous feedbacks and the non-linearity of changes limiting the predictive capabilities of model outputs. In the SeaLex project, we propose an alternative approached based on the retro-observation.
The diversity of methods and tools used, as well as the very time-consuming aspects of the techniques employed in paleosciences, has often limited their societal reach and limited the ability to transfer some results to society. Few decision-makers plan their actions taking into account information from the past. Yet we are convinced that this approach is very effective in informing both the regional causes and local effects of coastal change on different time scales. These results can therefore be very useful in spatial planning policies in the face of coastal change.
We believe that two limitations must be overpassed so that the lessons of the past can be used to build future solutions. The first concerns scientific mediation tools to make the results of this fundamental research accessible. The SeaLex project aims to explore the solutions proposed by digital virtual reality and augmented reality tools. These approaches can facilitate the interpretation of the results by the general public and decision-makers and raise the awareness of the populations concerned about past and future transformations of coastal zones. The second limitation concerns the taking into account of Man in these past changes, as both responsible and potential victim of these transformations. By integrating archaeology, history and linguistics in an interdisciplinary approach, the SeaLex project aims to strengthen the societal impact of the results by placing coastal populations at the heart of the issues, thus retracing the evolution of lifestyles, daily practices and constraints inherent to the coastal environments. Anthropologists and ethnologists have long shown that the further back in time one goes, the more blurred the frontier between Man and Nature becomes. Consequently, it becomes easier to reconstruct a kind of "narrative of origins" that reconciles natural and cultural heritage and sheds new light on the identity of coastal societies.
Expected follow-up of the project
A project strengthening research/training interactions
We note that in the current IsBlue training programs, paleoenvironmental sciences do not sufficiently study the anthropogenic component of the socio-ecosystems. At the University of Brest, we also note that Humanities (history/archaeology) do not pay enough attention to the environmental aspects of past societies. The interdisciplinary SeaLex project aims to decompartmentalize the environmental sciences, humanities and engineering sciences by offering new courses and teaching contents common to these three fields of science. We aim to introduce and develop different forms of research activity and to create conditions that motivate students’ participation in this specific research works. In licence degree, we will propose to all UBO students a new course (UE libre) for an introduction to complex environmental issues and interdisciplinary approaches, based on research carried out on the territory of the LTSER-France site ZABrI. We also offer new courses for PhD and Master 2 students to deepen the different concepts, methods and research tools used in the SeaLex project. We will be also concerned about the real job opportunities for students in the academic research and in other sectors of the economy interested by the project (tourism, natural and cultural heritage institutions).
A project strengthening science/society interactions
Coastal areas, particularly in Brittany, have an exceptionally rich and diverse natural and cultural heritage that is a factor in attracting tourists and promoting economic development. In Brittany, tourist activity represents 8.1% of GDP (2.300 million euros in economic spin-offs) and around 1.3 million people have visited historical and archaeological sites in 2018. Surveys carried out among tourists indicate that the two criteria for choosing Brittany are (i) coastal landscapes (70% of respondents) and (ii) cultural heritage (38% of respondents). The SeaLex project aims to respond to a strong social demand to better understand the human-environmental interactions, through the enhancement of cultural and natural sites with high potential, through the development of innovative tools using virtual reality. Concrete actions in this direction began in 2019 as part of an INTERREG project to develop "Bio-Cultural Heritage Tourism" in several natural protected areas in France and England. In the Molène archipelago, the natural parks have involved several researchers of the SeaLex research team to create mediation tools to visualize past landscape changes and discover ancient archaeological sites in virtual reality. These tools are currently being developed and will be exhibited in various museums in the region and in tourist offices. The virtual tools will be used to raise awareness of environmental issues, coastal changes and the enhancement of cultural heritage, with the aim of providing a narrative of coastal societies' occupation over time. In order to raise awareness of these aspects among young audiences, the development of a video game such as escape game appears as a perfectly adapted response in the future. The dissemination of the results to public institutions such as the Marinarium of Brest (Oceanopolis) and the national education system is also considered in the next years.
A project strengthening science/innovation interactions
The SeaLex project will implement various innovative tools and approaches that will open up new research perspectives. The analysis of ancient DNA preserved in shells is still experimental, but the expected results are likely to open up great opportunities to study past marine biodiversity and the impact of human fishing and collecting activities on ecosystems. Virtual reality and augmented reality tools are expanding and offer many opportunities to build new methods for communicating scientific results, in order to make research results easily accessible. Finally, the interactive digital poster system (Evol’Iroise) that we wish to develop within the framework of SeaLex reinvents the scientific poster and opens up many perspectives for the valorization of research data, creating new ways of communicating and transmitting knowledge.
A first step toward more ambitious projects with new international partners
Strengthening collaboration with Canada
The SeaLex project will consolidate newly established collaborations with different international teams involved on common field works. In the Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon archipelago, a Franco-Canadian geoarchaeological research program began in 2019 with scientific members from Isblue (P. Stéphan) and Canadian geomorphologists and archaeologists from ULAVAL and UQAR. The objectives of this project are to (i) retrace prehistoric human occupations and (ii) reconstruct environmental changes over the past millennia. Until now, almost nothing was known about archaeology in this archipelago. In September 2019, the first archaeological prospecting mission identified 4 shell middens that offer interesting opportunities to study some aspects of past societies (material culture, resources consumed, fishing practices, periods of use, etc.), and to study marine paleo-biodiversity and temperature variations in coastal waters. In the next years, these shell middens will be sounded by archaeologists and the possible discovery of black clam (Arctica Islandica) into these deposits could offer great opportunities for paleoclimate reconstructions from sclerochronological skills developed by the International laboratory BeBest. In August 2020, a sediment coring mission will be carried out by a Master 2 SML student co-supervised by G. Marie (UQAR) to study the relative sea-level variations and the Holocene glacio-isostatic adjustment in the archipelago.
Use the European’s Universities Network SEA-EU
At an international scale, we plan to create strong research links with the universities of Kiel and Cadiz (identified as leaders in Europe) through the hosting of guest researchers (we are thinking of Johannes Müller from Kiel and Salvador Domínguez-Bella from Cadiz) and international post-docs.
Strengthening collaboration into the European Research Network PrehCOAST (CNRS)
At the European level, the SeaLex project will strengthen the collaborations initiated in the International Research Network PreCOAST (Coast‐inland dynamics in prehistoric hunter‐gatherer societies) supported by the CNRS from 2019 to 2023. The initial phase of the PRECOAST research group involves researchers from Spain (Santander), France (Bordeaux, Brest, La Rochelle, Paris, Rennes, Toulouse), Latvia (Riga) and Norway (Oslo). It integrates archaeologists and palaeo-environmentalists involved in the exploration of coastal societies of Prehistoric hunter-gatherers (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic). It aims to overcome certain national divisions in the assessment of cultural or environmental processes on a continental scale, but also to help develop archaeology adapted to similar parameters and constraints. This concerns the very nature of these prehistoric societies whose subsistence is based on maritime resources, but also the concepts necessary to renew their study. Working in both marine and continental environments implies the use of geophysical prospecting methods or very particular excavations. The IRN PreCOAST takes a great interest in the historical role of coastlines as a privileged means of circulation, whether for exchanges or migrations, in order to write a connected European prehistory. The researchers involved in the SeaLex project have already planned to organise an international workshop in May 2020 in Brest bringing together the scientists involved in IRN PreCOAST. This workshop is untitled “Investigate the shore, sounding the past: new methods and practices of maritime prehistory” and will be an opportunity to define common fieldworks and to build common programs at national and international levels.
Promote SeaLex at major scientific events
We also want to propose sessions on the theme of “human-coastal environmental interactions during the Holocene” in the next international congresses (Congress of the Association de Sédimentologie Française scheduled to take place in Brest in 2021 / session dedicated to the EGU in 2021).
To be represented in international organizations
We also plan to integrate the Advisory Body of the Underwater Cultural Heritage of the UNESCO program. This follows the UNESCO International Conference held in the city of Brest in June 2019 and will provide broad visibility for ISBLUE in international organizations and opportunities to integrate international programs.
Impact of the project on ISblue training
New interdisciplinary free course in licence degree
During their first three years at the University of Brest, students must choose 2 free courses (corresponding to 2 or 3 ECTS) which offer activities complementary to their initial discipline and provide the opportunity to acquire new knowledge. We plan to propose a new free course (UE libre) based on the interdisciplinary approach (Archaeology, Biology, Geomorphology, Geology, Palynology, History) developed in the SeaLex project.
New Master degree or course for PhD students
A Declaration of Intent was submitted to ISBLUE in March 2019 to propose a training project in coastal archaeology to be co-led by the University of Western Brittany (UBO) and the University of Southern Brittany (UBS), that will strengthen the partnership within the different universities of Brittany. This action will result in a resolutely interdisciplinary approach, with bridges between humanities, natural and engineering sciences within a common training programme.
International collaborations into the SEA-EU universities network
Within the framework of SEA-EU, we aim to open up and establish strong links with European universities such as Kiel and Cadiz through exchanges of Master students and PhD co-supervision. This partnership with these sea-oriented universities and, moreover, with research teams dedicated to archaeological research in coastal areas is an opportunity because it should enable us to pool our skills to respond to calls for projects on a larger scale.
A geoarchaeological project on the island of Jersey
The Island of Jersey is the second field of study on which the SeaLex project team will strengthen these international collaborations, in particular with archaeologists from London University and the Société Jersiaise. After an initial survey mission on the foreshore carried out in 2019 by one of us (YP), a larger team will go in the spring to carry out surveys with several objectives:
-mapping numerous dolerite blocks on the foreshore that could in some cases correspond to partially dismantled megalithic monuments (alignments, enclosures);
-to carry out fine prospecting work around Neolithic massive grinding stones in order to see if there are any remains of dwellings (dry stone walls, erected blocks).
-study the architecture of numerous fish traps and stone passages built to cross tidal channels. It is not excluded that some of these structures had a dual function. At the same time, carry out a micro-toponymic study to see if there are any evocative toponyms.
-reexamine the heavily sea-eroded Green Island islet where a necropolis of cists was unearthed during excavations carried out by R.G. Warton in 1913. In addition to the tombs, several shell middens are also mentioned. If at least part of these were still visible, we would try to take samples from them, as they could provide a great deal of information on the nature of these occupations and the paleoenvironments.
Translating the theoretical into practical: summer workcamps students
A modern Master degree must promote the development of the students’ creative/critical thinking, reasoning abilities and research skills. Students need to possess not only the necessary amount of basic and specialized knowledge, but also certain creative skills for solving practical problems, be able to adapt quickly to changing conditions and constantly improve his skills (Ruchinaa et al., 2015). We believe that field missions offer the unique experience of being able to develop these kinds of skills. For this reason, we are planning to set up a summer workcamps students starting in the summer of 2021. This workcamp will be supported by the ARMERIE program (Archéologie Maritime et Recherche environnementale), funded by the University of Brest (UBO) over the period 2020-2022 whose aim is to promote archaeological research at the UBO in strong interaction with the marine sciences developed within IsBlue. The researchers involved in the SeaLex project will participate in the scientific supervision of this camp. This workcamp will be open to Master students of the universities of the SEA-EU network. It is conceived as an annual 10-day field mission in complete immersion with the scientific staff. Situated near the city of Brest, the island of Béniguet is envisaged to host this workcamp as there are many archaeological sites dating from the Neolithic to the medieval period, very rich shell middens, a very mobile shoreline and well-preserved sedimentary archives. We plan to conduct archaeological excavations, geophysical prospecting campaigns and core sampling with students.
An interactive poster for scientific presentations: Evol’Iroise
A new tool of scientific mediation named « Evol’Iroise », is planned for the next months and will be updated in the future. It is a digital and interactif poster illustrating the changes in the ecosystems of the Iroise region, the territory of the LTSER site “Zone Atelier Brest‐Iroise”. This tool for mediation will be used to highlight the scientific works in progress, and the results on this territory, with different approaches and disciplinaries. The first scenarii will be constructed around the geomorphology, palynology, climatology, archaeology, and sclerochronology approaches over the Holocene temporal window. Based on web technologies and requiring no knowledge of computer coding, it will be easy to modify its content in order to integrate the new data and scientific studies in the future. This project is aimed at large audiences, not only to scientific mediation but also to the training of students. It will be a good pedagogic support for the different masters within the graduate school EDSML.
Coordinateurs: Pierre Stéphan
Contributeurs: Adam Ayouche, Aude Saint-Pierre, Aurélie Penaud, Axel Ehrhold, Bernard Le Gall, Charria Guillaume, Christine Paillard, Clement Lambert , Daniel Le Bris, Frederique Eynaud, Frédéric Devillers, Gregor Marchand, Marie-Morgane Abiven, Maël Jezequel, Muriel Vidal, Nathan Martin, Nicolas Naudinot, Oliveira Oliveira, Ophélie David, Serge Suanez, Wiem Fersi, Yvan Pailler, Yves-marie Paulet
kick-off meeting - 23/11/2021
Réunion de lancement du projet SeaLex
SeaLex Annual Meeting #2 - 17/11/2021
Deuxième meeting du projet SeaLex (PNBI)
Présentation du projet SeaLex au Conseil Scientifique International (CSI) - 10/02/2021
Présentation du projet SeaLex au Conseil Scientifique International (CSI)
- Présentation du post-doc en sclérochronologie et aDNA par Cynthia OliveiraCynthia Oliveira a présenté le travail de post-doctorat qu’elle débutera au LEMAR en janvier proc...23.11.2021
- Présentation du post-doc en palynologie par Wiem Fersi (LGO)Wiem Fersi (LGO) a présenté le travail qu’elle mène sur l’analyse palynologique de deux carottes ...23.11.2021
- Sujet de Thèse SEALEX en géoarchéologie (WP2) : thèse CHRONODUNEPierre Stéphan (LETG) a présenté le sujet de thèse en géomorphologie et géoarchéologie qui porte ...23.11.2021
- Présentation du post-doc en modélisation par Adam Ayouche (LOPS)Adam Ayouche vient de démarrer son contrat post-doctoral au LOPS. Son travail vise à simuler la d...23.11.2021
- Présentation du post-doc en humanités numériques par Marie-Morgane Abiven (CERV)Marie-Morgane Abiven a présenté le travail mené dans le cadre de SeaLex et en coordination avec l...23.11.2021