Millennial variability of rates of sea-level rise in the ancient harbour of Naples (Italy, western Mediterranean Sea)

Matteo Vacchi, Elda Russo Ermolli, Christophe Morhange, Maria R. Ruello, Valentino Di Donato, Mauro A. Di Vito, Daniela Giampaola, Vittoria Carsana, Viviana Liuzza, Aldo Cinque, Giulia Boetto, Pierre Poveda, Giuliana Boenzi, Nick Marriner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We reconstructed the late Holocene relative sea-level (RSL) evolution of the ancient harbour of Naples, one of the largest coastal conurbations in the Mediterranean. We carried out multiproxy investigations, coupling archaeological evidence with biological indicators. Our data robustly constrain 2000 yr of non-monotonic changes in sea level, chiefly controlled by the complex volcano-tectonic processes that characterize the area. Between ∼200 BC and AD ∼0, a subsidence rate of more than ∼1.5 mm/yr enhanced the postglacial RSL rise, while negligible or moderate land uplift < ∼0.5 mm/yr triggered a RSL stabilization during the Roman period (first five centuries AD). This stabilization was followed by a post-Roman enhancement of the sea-level rise when ground motion was negative, attested by a subsidence rate of ∼0.5 to ∼1 mm/yr. Our analysis seems to indicate very minor impacts of this nonmonotonic RSL evolution on the activities of the ancient harbour of Naples, which peaked from the third century BC to the second century AD. After this period, the progressive silting of the harbour basin made it impossible to safely navigate within the basin, leading to the progressive decline of the harbour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-298
Number of pages15
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article is dedicated to the memory of our friend and colleague Paola Romano who significantly investigated the coastal evolution of Naples in recent years. MV is funded by the Rita Levi Montalcini programme of the Italian Ministry of University and Research (MIUR). CM and MV thank the Labex OT-Med (ANR- 11-LABX-0061) and the A*MIDEX project (ANR-11-IDEX-0001-02). Our study is a contribution to the MOPP-Medflood (INQUA CMP 1603P) and HOLSEA (INQUA CMP 1601P) projects. We also extend our gratitude to the PALSEA 2 (PAGES/INQUA/WUN working group) and IGCP Project 639 communities for fruitful discussions during the workshops. We warmly thank Carlo Nike Bianchi and Carla Morri (DISTAV, University of Genova, Italy) who helped us with the identification of the fossil benthic species. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor Barbara Mauz who greatly improved the early version of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2019.


  • Ancient harbours
  • Geo-archeology
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Naples
  • Parthenope-Neapolis
  • Sea-level changes
  • Volcano-tectonics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (all)


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