Vegetation dynamics during the early to mid-Holocene transition in NW Malta, human impact versus climatic forcing

Morteza Djamali, Belinda Gambin, Nick Marriner, Valérie Andrieu-Ponel, Timmy Gambin, Emmanuel Gandouin, Sandro Lanfranco, Frédéric Médail, Daniel Pavon, Philippe Ponel, Christophe Morhange

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A pollen diagram was constructed for the early- to mid-Holocene transition (ca. 7350-5600 cal. b.p./5400-3650 b.c.) from the Burmarrad ria located in NW Malta. The vegetation at ca. 7350-6960 cal. b.p./5400-5010 b.c. was characterized by an almost tree-less steppe-like open landscape. Early Holocene dry climatic conditions were most probably due to intensification of the subtropical monsoon circulation that strengthened the subtropical anticyclonic descent over the central Mediterranean and blocked the penetration of humid air masses from the North Atlantic Ocean. At ca. 6950 cal. b.p./5000 b.c., the steppe-like vegetation was suddenly replaced by a Mediterranean evergreen forest or dense scrub dominated by Pistacia cf. lentiscus trees. This event, which has simultaneously been recorded in southern Sicily, was most probably caused by the southward shift of the ITCZ permitting the eastward movement of the North Atlantic cyclonic systems. Traces of human activities are evident in the pollen diagram since the beginning of the record but become more pronounced from the onset of the Temple Cultural Phase at ca. 6050 cal. b.p./4100 b.c. with a gradual decline of tree pollen. We suggest that the early- to mid-Holocene vegetation transformation was mainly controlled by a regional climatic change that occurred in a landscape only slightly impacted by human activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)367-380
Number of pages14
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the PALEOMED project (ANR 09-BLAN-0323-204 01) financed by the French National Research Agency. The first author wishes to thank Laurent Londeix, Maria Sanchez Goñi, Jean-Louis Turon, and Frédérique Eynaud from EPOC, for their hospitality and valuable advice on dinoflagellate identification and scientific discussions during his research stay at the University of Bordeaux in January 2011. We are also thankful to Willy Tinner for his invaluable comments on the BM1 pollen diagram and Arne Saatkamp for his assistance with botanical interpretation of the diagram. Constructive and thoughtful comments of the two reviewers of this paper are greatly appreciated.


  • Evergreen Pistacia
  • Mediterranean
  • Monsoon intensification
  • Neolithic
  • Pollen analysis
  • Temple cultural phase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Plant Science
  • Paleontology


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