(CN) – Scientists have uncovered the first man-made defense against sea-level rise built around 7,000 years ago – a defense that was ultimately unsuccessful, according to a study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE.
A team of researchers from universities across the world, including the University of Haifa and Flinders University in Australia, undertook a massive research effort to uncover an ancient seawall built on the Carmel Coast in Israel. The discovery of the seawall, built to protect the Neolithic village of Tel Hreiz several thousand years ago, stands as the first example of human civilization attempting to combat the issue of rising sea levels.
Researchers say Tel Hreiz was built around 9 feet above sea level, but that glacial sea-level rises each year represented a significant threat to the Neolithic community. In response, villagers constructed a seawall made out of riverbed boulders that stretched nearly 300 feet, an accomplishment that researchers believe was the first of its kind.
While remarkable, the wall was not enough. The study reports that after first offering some initial protections, the rising sea overpowered the wall and Tel Hreiz was abandoned as villagers fled deeper into Israel’s mainland.
Tel Hreiz was first noted as a possible archaeological site nearly 60 years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that more of the settlement became available for study – leading to the discovery of the seawall.
Scientists say the story of Tel Hreiz, despite being thousands of years old, has a shocking amount of relevance today. Rising sea levels, spurred on a warming planet and polar ice loss, pose a significant threat to communities around the entire world not unlike what the villagers of Tel Hreiz faced.
Researchers suggest that by better understanding mankind’s struggle with rising sea levels, we arm ourselves with the perspectives needed to tackle the issue moving forward.
Liora Kolska, co-author of the study, said that in order to appreciate the lessons of Tel Hreiz in a modern context, we should understand the difference in size and scope between what the Neolithic villagers faced in Israel thousands of years ago and what Earth faces today. Where the battle against rising sea levels was fought once over a small coastal community, Kolska said, the battle against sea levels today is being fought on a global level.
“Back in the Neolithic, however tragic for its occupants, the rising sea level resulted in the relatively moderate loss of a small coastal village and its surrounding land, that was abandoned by its inhabitants (probably many more such small settlements along the coast suffered the same fate),” Kolska said in an email. “In contrast, today, we talk of millions and even billions of people who will be affected by sea level rise. This is loss on a catastrophic scale.”
The study suggests that despite the difference in scope and the fact that sea levels are rising at much different rates globally than was experienced by Tel Hreiz, the core struggle remains largely the same. Therefore, the study says, there are significant opportunities to use the history of Tel Hreiz as a learning tool with which to shape and adapt our own modern approach to the problem.
Kolska said the lessons learned from Tel Hreiz could hold the key to preventing future similar disasters – but only if action is taken quickly.
“The critical question is – can the ‘Tel Hreiz scenario’ be averted? We believe that it can given our knowledge of what awaits us (knowledge is power), and secondly, our technological abilities,” Kolska said. “We can ‘stem the tide’ but only if we act now and on a global scale.”