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Fluctuations in the level of the Caspian Sea and Maritime Cultural Heritage

Fluctuations in the level of the Caspian Sea and Maritime Cultural Heritage

by Ramin Adibi

One of the most important environmental factors called “Water Level Fluctuation” and its effect on “Maritime Heritage”, particularly on the shipwrecks and ancient ports in the southern coasts of the Caspian Sea.


“…Thus, just as Grahame Clark writes about hot and dry or cold and wet climates, Keith Muckelroy writes about currents, waves, winds and fetch When Clark discusses different types of soil, Muckelroy discusses slope of the sea bed, its topography and its finest and coarsestdeposits…” (Harpster, 2009:74)

As you know, scientists of different scientific areas have been preoccupied, for a long time, with the water level fluctuation of the Caspian Sea. That is because, after World War II and in 1977, the water level of the Caspian Sea was raised and caused a great number of coastlines and coastal structures around the sea to be submerged. Unanticipated appearance of this phenomenon turned to be a catastrophic issue for the governments around the largest lake in the world.

Varied factors have been expressed by the scientists for the water level rise and size change in this lake: climatic changes since Ice Age, tectonic factors, annual volume (Discharge/Débit) of the rivers reaching the sea, especially Volga River in Russia as well as anthropogenic factors (e.g. extraction of fossils).

The Phenomenon has tangibly affected the renewable and nonrenewable resources of the Sea. As an instance, living resources of the Sea have been reduced in number and Maritime heritage has been lost, with this difference that living resources like sturgeons or Caspian seals are renewable, but maritime heritage is nonrenewable. Provided that maritime heritage loses, future generations will be deprived of that and windows to the past will be closed.

In some cases of published reports on maritime archaeological surveys, the issue has been seriously considered. For example, in their report on the investigations of Gorgān and Tammīsheh Walls between the years 2007 and 2009, Rosenberg et al. point out that a percentage of the remains of Tammīsheh Wall in a 3-meter depth attest a significant rise in the sea-level over the past one and a half millennia (Rensburg et al., 2013:423). In his final report on archaeological excavation of Zaghmarz shipwreck between the years 2003 and 2004, Saman Sortiji indicates that a wooden shipwreck under a tremendous mound of sand appeared, remnants of which, due to climatic regime stability of the region, were located one meter away from the sea and, just in the time of high tide, the sea waves hit a few parts of the stern. But when archaeological work on the shipwreck restarted, climatic changes referred to as “Elinino”, followed by consequences such as aquifers enrichment and weather condition called Greenhouse, water level of the Caspian sea was raised and, as a result, the above-mentioned shipwreck, influenced by these changes, went thoroughly through the waves and, therefore, archaeological studies and sand remove processes confronted difficulties (Sortiji, 2003:2-3). Recently, a significant article conducted by Ghamari Fatideh and et al. titled “Sea Fluctuations at the Southeastern Shores of the Caspian Sea and its Impact on the Archaeological Site Distributions (1st to 3rd Millennium B.C.)” contains valuable information about submerged human settlements in the southeast of Caspian sea (Ghamari and et al., 2015:37-56)

As DR. FRASER STURT puts: As archaeologists, this is really significant for two key reasons. The first of those is that we do have these spaces which are now covered by the sea which were large areas open for prehistoric populations to move over and live in. The significance of Maritime archaeology is that, in these spaces, we often find preserved organic materials that we don’t always find on land. So this is a complimentary and different record. Within those sediments, we also find evidence that can help us improve our understanding of the process of sea level and environmental change. What was it like to live in a landscape that was being inundated at the rates that we see in some areas which may be recognizable to people like you or I?  The second reason this is so important is if we suck all that water up and place it in an ice  sheet or inundate a landscape and create new bodies of water, we change the way the sea  behaves; it’s currents, eddies and directions and this changes the way that people can  connect with each other. So it affects seafaring behavior and the technologies we need to operate in those spaces. So it’s not just about submergence of landscapes, it’s about the sea itself and how those changes impacted on people in the past. As such, we can’t really understand the Maritime archaeological material that we excavate and study unless we can know more about the world in which they lived in. Thus, studying sea level change and its impact on people in the past is fundamental for Maritime archaeology. (STURT, 2014, p.1)

Works Cited:

1.Harpster, M. (2009). Keith Muckelroy: Methods, Ideas and Maritime Archaeology. Journal of Maritime Archaeology, 4.
2.Soortijee,Saman.(2003). final report on archaeological excavation of Zaghmarz shipwreck.Mazandran-Sari: Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts and Tourism Organization.
3.Ghamari Fatideh, M., Vahdati Nasab, H., & Mousavi Kouhpar, S. M. (2015). Sea Fluctuations at the Southeastern Shores of the Caspian Sea and its Impact on the Archaeological Site Distributions (1st to 3rd Millennium B.C.). physical geography research quarterly , 37-56.
4.Rensburg, J. J., Caputo, F., Hamid, O. R., Sauer, E. W., Shabani, B., & Ratcliffe, J. (2013 ). The Underwater Survey of the Tammisheh and Gorgan Walls. In H. Omrani Rekavandi, T. J. Wilkinson, J. Nokandeh, & E. Sauer, Persia’s Imperial Power in Late Antiquity: The Great Wall of Gorgan and the Frontier Landscapes of Sasanian Iran. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
5.Sturt , fraser . (2014.). 0ur changing sea. Retrieved ,2014,from Future learn – free online course website: Shipwreck and submerged word – university of Southampton.

6.Rucevska, I., & Simonett, O. (2012). Vital Caspian Graphics 2 : Opportunities, Aspirations and Challenges. Zoï Environment/GRID-Arendal.

Press release and images provided by Ramin Adibi
Director of Archaeology of Maritime Landscape Magazine(AMLM)
For further information please contact:


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