Holocene relative sea levels and related prehistoric activity in the Forth lowland, Scotland, United Kingdom

D. E. Smith, M. H. Davies, C. L. Brooks, T. M. Mighall, S. Dawson, Brice Reid Rea, J. T. Jordan, L. K. Holloway

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23 Citations (Scopus)


Changes in relative sea level (RSL) and their effect on the distribution of human activity in the Forth lowland, Scotland, UK between ca 11,700 and ca 2000 calibrated years before present (BP) are examined. Block uplift of shorelines occurred over a longer period than previously thought, continuing to at least around 4700 BP. New graphs of RSL change, based upon an analysis of previous work and evidence from new sites using standard morphological and stratigraphical analyses, support a fall in RSL in the early Holocene during which buried estuarine surfaces were formed, followed by a marked reversal on a centennial, perhaps even decadal, scale sometime around 9900-9500 BP from a falling sequence to a rising one. There may have been a short-lived fluctuation in the rising RSL ca 8300 BP, and the Holocene Storegga Slide tsunami of ca 8100 BP was widespread in the lowland. The rising RSL culminated at the Main Postglacial Shoreline, reached ca 7800 BP, when Mean High Water Spring Tides (MHWS) lay within the range 14.6-16.5 m British Ordnance Datum (OD) in the western lowland. This is the highest published Holocene RSL in Britain and Ireland. The subsequent fall in RSL stabilised at a second shoreline, the Blairdrummond Shoreline, from which regression was occurring at ca 4700 BP. RSL later fell to a lower shoreline at ca 3900 BP before reaching present levels within the last three millennia. Comparison between the empirical evidence for RSL change in this area and glacial isostatic adjustment models indicates both similarities and differences. Records of archaeological sites and artefacts in the lowland and surrounding areas are discussed. Maps showing the evolution of the estuary are compared with the distribution of Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age activity. Evidence for Mesolithic people indicates the opportunistic use of available resources as RSL rose and the estuary expanded to its maximum extent. Neolithic people were also attracted to the estuary, building at least one platform from which to exploit resources and accumulating middens along the shoreline for over 2000 years. Bronze Age people were present across the emerging saltmarshes and mudflats before raised peat mosses, already extensive at the head of the lowland, developed more widely. In the Iron Age, the area could be accessed both between the peat mosses of the western lowland and across newly emergent land in the east as RSL continued to fall. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2382-2410
Number of pages29
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number17-18
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010


  • Oxford AMS system
  • British-Isles
  • Mainland Scotland
  • radiocarbon-dates
  • land uplift
  • valley
  • history
  • UK
  • patterns
  • age


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