Geoarchaeology of the Burmarrad ria and early Holocene human impacts in western Malta

Nick Marriner, Timothy Gambin, Morteza Djamali, Christophe Morhange, Mevrick Spiteri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Holocene sediments from the ria of Burmarrad (western Malta) provide a record of changing geomorphology, relative sea-level rise and human impacts. Chronostratigraphic evidence attests to a fluvial-dominated upper estuarine environment between ~7500cal. BP and ~7000cal. BP, with increasing salinity linked to rising post-glacial sea level. The shift to a marine setting is dated to ~7000cal. BP, characterized by a wave-dominated coastline that accreted up until ~4000cal. BP. During the maximum marine ingression, the Burmarrad floodplain formed a vast 1.8km 2 marine bay, ~3000m long by ~650m wide, whose environmental potentiality presented western Malta's early societies with a multiplicity of coastal, terrestrial, and fluvial resources, in addition to a low-energy context favourable to the anchoring of boats. New palynological data show intensified human impact on the landscape beginning ~7300cal. BP, which is broadly consistent with the earliest archaeological traces. Western Malta was already void of a significant vegetation cover by the mid-Holocene. Rapid human-induced sedimentation means that by the Bronze Age, the palaeobay had been reduced by ~40% compared to its mid-Holocene maximum. The final morphogenetic phase constitutes fluvial silts and sands that began accreting after 2700cal. BP. During Punic/Roman times, the ria bay was ~1km 2, and was flanked to the south by a well-developed deltaic plain providing fertile land for agriculture. Today, the ria is ~60% smaller than it was 7000years ago.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-65
Number of pages14
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank K. Mallia for kindly granting access to the site of core BM1. Research was funded by ANR Paleomed ( 09-BLAN-0323-204 01 ), EU FEDER InterReg IIIB MEDOCC (Archeomed), Artemis INSU , PEPS INSHS and PEPS INEE . We are grateful to the Department of Classics and Archaeology at the University of Malta, particularly Professor Bonanno and Dr. Vella, for generously granting access to the department's facilities. We also thank the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage for issuing work permits.


  • Ancient harbour
  • Human impacts
  • Malta
  • Mediterranean
  • Palaeoecology
  • Prehistory
  • Ria
  • Sedimentology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Paleontology


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