English summary


About the project

This study aims to explore the linkage between the Black Sea level changes and shoreline dynamics associated with climatic variability at one hand and the mechanisms of human population adaptation to natural environmental changes conditions within the Razelm-Sinoe Lagoon Complex during the late Holocene (e.g. post 4000yrs) at the other hand.

In order to achieve the aim of the project will be performed the geochronologic and morphologic analysis of the littoral barriers and aquiferous basins from Razelm-Sinoe Lagoon Complex,  regarded as important units which stored important palegeographic information of the region.

The geoarcheological research will focus upon the reconstruction of Histria fortress territorial organization (possibly reorganization) as a response to the morphological changes occurred during the late Holocene, being examined for the first time by modern methodological means, the extension of built fortress structures, today buried or/and submerged  and their anthropological and morphological significance.

The multi- proxy approach of  reconstructing  the geographic changes responsible for Histria ancient city decline will allow to distinguish and date the key events of climate-sea level and sedimentary availability balance shifts.

The results of this project will deliver important information referring to the regional climate variability during the Late Holocene to which the regional sea level and coastal dynamics are inextricably linked.


The team

Luminița Preoteasa – team leader

Alfred Vespremeanu-Stroe

Iulian Bîrzescu – CV English

Diana Hanganu

Cătălin I. Nicolae – CV English

Project objectives

O1: The development of an absolute chronology for the coastal barriers and beach ridge plains of the Razelm-Sinoe lagoon complex

The absolute chronology determination of R-SLC is necessary for determining the temporal framework during which the morpho-sedimentary units of the R-SLC formed and evolved, and also for coastal dynamics reconstruction (shoreline position at certain times of the evolution, the determination of its migration rates, longshore transported sediments volume reconstitution).

A chronology exists based on 6-ages, testifying the presence, between 1-4.9 kyrs B.P., of the barriers that led to the closure of Razelm gulf within the actual position. These information were used in the context of the argument of simultaneous development of these coastal barriers with different morpho-sedimentary units from Danube Delta (Giosan et al., 2006), therefore having a pristine informative value. In this context, the development of a detailed chronology, supported by sufficient ages to cover reasonably both the surface of the coastal barriers from R-SLC and different sedimentary horizons representative for distinct stages of their evolution has become imperative.

For the first time, the beginning phase of sedimentation in the area of the ancient town of Histria will be dated. Is expected from the new morpho-structural and chronological data obtained from this study to contribute to the understanding of the manner in which the coastal area control factors change their characteristics in time and of the impact that they subsequently have on the spatial organization model of the coastal subunits.

O2: The determination of the relative level oscillations of the Black Sea  during Late Holocene in the area of Razelm-Sinoe lagoon complex.

The evolution of the absolute level of the Black Sea (BS) in the Late Holocene is still under discussion. A synthesis of the theories regarding the BS level oscillations during the Late Holocene reveals three existent versions: i) a sudden rise until 7000 yrs ago, followed by a slow decrease (Balabanov, 2007, Konikov 2007, Shuisky, 2007), ii) a sinuous evolution, with important regressions and transgressions which affected the population on the coast (ex.: the Phanagorian regression 2700-2400 BP and the Nimpheean transgression, cf. Chepalyga 2002; Balanov, 2007, Fouache, 2004; Martin et al., 2007), iii) a quasi stable level, centred on the actual 0 m value, with oscillations of at most ± 1 m (Giosan et al. 2006). These hypothesis have derived from knowing the BS relative level oscillations in different locations (e.g.: the Taman peninsula, Sinop, the Danube Delta north of Sfântu Gheorghe fault). Although apparently paradoxical, for the evolution of R-SLC the knowing of the BS relative level evolution in this region (i.e. the reference level of the coastal and fluvial processes) is more important than the knowing of its absolute level. Instead, the regional data provided by this project can constitute major contribution to understanding of the absolute evolution of the BS level.

Knowing the evolution of BS relative level in R-SLC (south of Sfântu Gheorghe fault, which, according to the deductions supported by the morphological analysis of Sf. Gheorghe I and II deltaic lobes, it imposes different tectonic movements of the northern and the southern compartments) is critical for understanding the evolution of this area.

The geoarchaeological researches made so far in the BS basin speak of the partial destruction of some important ancient towns (e.g. Kepoi, Hermonassa, Fanagoria) caused by marine erosion, and also of the necessity imposed by these findings to obtain more archaeological, paleogeographic and tectonic data which would document similar situations coming from the same area (Bruckner et al., 2009). Bleahu (1963) previously issued the hypothesis according to which the decline (declension) of the ancient town of Histria has been caused by landscape transformations that interrupted its connections with the sea, the main sustenance and prosperity source of the existent town. All these transformations involve evidences of the fact that they occurred in relation to sea level changes. Hereby, our concern regards the establishment of a locally valid and realistic curve of the BS level recorded during Middle and Late Holocene at the R-SLC. Comparatively analyzed with BS level curves reconstituted within other sectors, this curve would constitute a document that would contribute to the advancement in knowledge of the BS level variability in Middle and Late Holocene.

A complex database, compiled from different regions, is requisite to complete and understand the landscape evolution scenario in the BS basin and the associated social transformations. A major problem, frequently encountered in the scientific approaches that regard the determination of the sea level curve is finding representative landmarks and evaluating their precision. The investigation of the BS level variability in the Late Holocene in the R-SLC area is recommended by the meteo-marine (ex.: micro-tidal environment, limited fetch), geomorphologic (extended shelf, shallow depths), morpho-dynamic (the prevailing of accumulative processes) and tectonic (tectonic stability in the Quaternary cf. Dinu et al., 2005) conditions.

In order to achieve this objective the most representative sea level indicators will be identified and investigated: i) the contact between different facies, ii)  the peat formed in the area of the lagoon complex (generally, the layers of peat developed in lagoon areas are considered the most expressive for the interpretation of sea level position cf. Bruckner et al., 2009), iii) the bio-stratigraphic indicators (ex.: entire, unreshuffled shells) and iv) archaeological data (ex.: buried/flooded constructions and artifacts). Also, through geochemical analysis of the sedimentary structure (possible by XRF scanning) the dissociation between various sedimentary facies would be possible: marine, sweet water (salmastru?) lacustrine and deltaic formed in connection with different sea level positions.

O3: The reconstitution of the dynamic (reconstruction) of the morpho-sedimentary units from the Razelm-Sinoe lagoon system during the Late Holocene

The coexistence of two types of ridges within the morpho-sedimentary units Chituc and Saele (Istria) differentiated, at a first sight, by morphology and orientation, could reflect distinct evolution trends overlapped on different shoreline evolution phases, in which a contribution can be brought even by the sea level oscillations. Other factors, such as the fluctuations of the storm magnitude or sedimentary budged modifications induced by climatic variations are supposed to have controlled generation of the medium and minor sedimentary structures (ridges, inter-ridges depressions, deflation pavements, overwash fans) included within the major structures (beach ridge plains, coastal barriers). In order to understand the interaction manner between these factors at a medium (decadal) and large (centennial, millennial) time scale, the results this project envisages (ex.: chronological, morpho-statrigraphic, palinological, geochemical) will be integrated in a model that will simulate the dynamics of the investigated coastal sector and will offer information upon the manner and causes that led to the dramatic change in coastline configuration in Histria area.

The reconstruction of the morpho-sedimentary units distribution and dynamics in the study area is important for determining the characteristics of the landscape dynamics controlling factors, of their changing in time, as well as for establishing the specific of the interactions between these factors. The finality of the reconstruction of the geographic landscape specific for this area during Late Holocene will be given by the elaboration of the coastal dynamics model that led to the present configuration of R-SLC.

O4: Documenting the storm impact on coastal dynamics during the Late Holocene

There are several studies which describe Late Holocene storminess characteristics documented from overwash records within accumulative coastal units (e.g. Cooper et al., 2004; Donnelly et al., 2004; Baldock et al., 2008. The relevance of overwash deposits investigation for extreme events documentation  fostered the research of accurate dating methods enabling a substantial advancement of their performance (Davissicolab., 2009, Madsen sicolab., 2009). The littoral barriers and strandplains from RazelmSinoe lagoon complex encompass quantitative record (e.g. morphological, sedimentological) of coastal dynamics forced by extreme events occurrence. Radiocarbon and OSL dating along with spatial reconstruction of washover structures (morpho-stratigraphic and geochemical analysis) represent peculiar proxy elements to document the storminess pattern during the Late Holocene. In order to document storm impact on coastal behavior, this information will be compared with the shoreline dynamics at different times of Chituc littoral barrier evolution. Shoreline mobility rates will be computed on the basis of the established relationship between each beach ridge morphometry and its age.    Extending this sort of analysis on beach ridges from Leahova and Zmeica-Golovita strand-plains, the pattern of storm occurrence will be produced for the last approximately 5000 yrs. For the modern period, this model will be calibrated with 210Pb, 137Cs and radiocarbon dating.

The storm control on longshore sediment transport along with the strong correlation between the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and storminess occurrence on the Danube Delta coast (Vespremeanu –StroeandTatui, 2005; Vespremeanu-Stroeet al., 2007), suggest that the Late Holocene climate variability  imposed different rhythms of the coastal processes. Consequently, this objective aims the storm activity reconstruction and the role they played into strand-plains and coastal barrier development. Different studies undertaken on Late Holocene coastal dynamics on the Europe’s Northern and Western coasts reveals the correspondence between the shoreline dynamics and storminess (Wilson et al., 2001; Clarke et al., 2002; Wilson, 2002; Knight et al., 2004, Clemmensen and Murray, 2006; Aagardet al., 2007). As RSCL is a low lying, sandy coast, without significant coastal dunes, the shoreline position is subject to ample annual variations, with mobility rates of about 10 m/yr, so that its dynamics is higly sensitive to the slightest variations of meteo-marine conditions during periods with different storm regime. By comparison with the others European coasts, th Romanian deltaic and lagoon coast is probably the best location to study the impact of climatic variability on shoreline dynamics. This is because the highest shoreline evolutionary rates on the entire Romanian coast  and strong correlations with the NAO (Lozano et al., 2004; Vespremeanu-Stroeet al., 2007) are encountered here, enabling conducive conditions to ascertain the intervals with different mobility rates.

O5: Assessment of the coastal dynamics impact on the coastal communities

Early human society evolution in the Black Sea basin developed in conditions of major environmental changes (climate changes, sea level oscillations), which imposed their continuous adaptation. Histria fortress was founded by colonists coming from Milet, in the Southern part of Halmyris Embankment. During the last 2600 years the antique city of Histria and its natural surroundings suffered from major paleogeographic changes. Halmyris embankment was gradually filled with sediments resulting into the modern configuration of Razelm- Sinoe lagoon complex, parts of the ancient city is partially or totally submerged, harbors and other structures were lost. The archeological discoveries show that during the autonomy (until 72 b. Ch.), the fortress extended Eastward beyond the limits represented by the roman walls, today under Sinoe lake. The Histria city decline is associated with embankment sedimentation and Chituc barrier formation (M., Bleahu, 1963). Little is yet known about the geographic context during Histria city evolution. Large scale geoarcheological studies dealing with original morphology reconstruction are missing. Within the present state of the art of paleogeographic and anthropological knowledge of the region there is an urgent need to elucidate the following questions:

  • What was the regional geographic context at the time Histria fortress was founded and how did it transformed in time (e.g. inland, peninsula,continent)?
  • When and how did the decoupling between the fortress and the Black Sea occurred (e.g. flooding, gradual sedimentation)?
  • Which was the relative Black Sea level at the beginning of Histria city foundation and how does it evolve up to the present?
  • How many harbors functioned nearby and where the most conducive condition (e.g. morphological, meteo-marine) for building the harbors were met?
  • How was the connection between the fortress and the continent, respectively the necropolis (e.g. on land, through the water)?
  • What was the city extension during the autonomy era?

Obtaining data about the morpho-sedimentary units chronology and dynamics and local sea level oscillations within CLR-S will enable the understanding of the region’s natural context. By correlation natural context and archeological data the paleogeographic context contemporaneous with Histria city foundation, evolution and decline.

Research methodology

This study integrates geomorphological, sedimentological and geochronological methods in order to obtain relevant data about shoreline evolution in the area of the ancient city.

To achieve these goals several operations have been made:
1. Stratigraphic sequencing of the main morpho-stratigraphic units in the area (marine field SAEL, Chituc, lakes Nuntași, Histria and Sinoe) and around the ancient city by drilling cores;
2. All the cores were dated using Optical Stimulated Luminescence and 14C-AMS;
3. In-depth description of each core by performing transverse topographic profiles in order to identify abnormalities in rhythmic of the sand-dunes altitude and spaces between them, these anomalies representing potential indicators with key events in the development of offshore fields in the vicinity of the ancient city of Histria.

Annual Reports

Report 1 – 2010

This study proposes a new model concerning the coastal evolution of the Histria region from the marine embankment dominated-state that followed the post-glacial transgression to the present day low-lying coastal system composed of beach ridge plains, sandy barriers and shallow water lagoons. Our results provide important evidence concerning the impact of the coastal changes on the rise and decay of ancient city of Histria. The city’s creation during the 7thcentury BC required suitable conditions for the establishment of a successful port-city,as Histria is presented in the archaeological and epigraphical sources (Pippidi, 1983; Avram, 1990). Dated paleoshorelines together with archeological evidence document the ancient city’s foundation on a peninsular littoral complex consisting of a rocky island, a N-S aligned beach ridge plain and a connecting tombolo-like feature developed to the lee of the rocky promontory.

Ten to twenty km north of the city (updrift), the Danube’s southernmost arm (Dunavăţ) built a deltaic lobe between 1900 and 1300 BP, later and faster than previously reported (Panin, 1983, 2003). It is likely that during the early stages of the Dunavăţ lobe development an overall yet slight decrease in seabed depths occurred in the offshore zone of the city, hampering the navigation on the northward and eastward navigation routes. Within the Saele strand-plain, a hiatus of almost two millenia (2730 – 980 BP) has been detected in the horizontal development of the marine levees, where two beach ridge sets with different orientation and ages (Old/Young Saele), are in direct contact along the C-ridge which obliquely cuts the older ones. This is particularly unusual for a prograding coast in situations where the relative sea level has been stable. This stability and the neotectonic setting is why in this case the prominent ridge is regarded as a key evidence of the tectonic history of the Histria southern hinterland. Most probably, eastward of the C-ridge the active subsidence partly drowned the beach ridges from the Old Saele and blocked, or significantly slowed down, the building of new beach ridges contemporaneous with the settlement. In either case, its genesis was conducive for the temporary preservation of  the open coast status of the city as otherwise the continuous trend of Saele coastline progradation would have resulted in a much earlier clogging of the city’s coast, particularly on its southern side where an ancient harbor is believed to have existed (Theodorescu, 1970).

The paleogeographical reconstruction at the north of settlement reveals the Dunavăţ lobe achieved its maximum development around 1400 to 1300BP, extending downdrift close to the northern Histria coast when the city started to become decoupled from the open sea. Afterwards, its updrift and central parts were affected by an intense erosional phase following the Dunavăţ branch abandonment (Panin, 2003). After 1300 BP, the long-shore drift specific to Histria’s coast increased to 1 – 1.2 x 106 m3/yr of sediments infilling the littoral cell within a few centuries, represented by the wide bay fronting the western Saele. Consequently, during 1300 – 720 BP the high progradation rates of 10 – 15 m/yr created a massive strand-plain (Saele – Chituc) both eastward and southward of the acropolis which later was split into two distinct units by the inception of Sinoe Lake. Contrary to previous opinions that link the genesis of Sinoe Lake to a recent marine (Histrian) transgression or to coastal morphodynamics (Bleahu, 1963; Vespremeanu, 2005) the morphology and the new age estimates for the formation of the Saele and Chituc strand-plains reveal the flooding of this area after beach ridge production during the last six centuries. Most probably the lake formation is associated with intensive localized subsidence activated by the tectonic faults which coincide with its rectilinear banks.

Most studies on the Romanian coast as well as those around the Black Sea whilst seeking to explain the Late Holocene coastal environmental changes, including human settlements, as responses to medium-term (centennial scale), high amplitude shifts in relative sea-level of up to 15 m (from +5 to -10 m) as principal controlling factor (Fedorov,1957, 1977; Shilik, 1975; Chepalyga, 1984; Vespremeanu, 2005; Balabanov, 2009). In this study, our paleoenvironmental reconstruction suggests that the relative sea-level, as recorded by southern Danube delta barriers, had a smooth trend during the last four millenia, within 0 to –2 m of the current level, with a relative stable position around –0.7 m during 3000 – 1000yr BP, spanning the lifetime of the ancient city of Histria.This is not surprising as the previously published Late Holocene Black Sea level curves exhibit high amplitude fluctuations without corresponding shifts in Mediterranean Sea level curves (Brückner et al., 2010), despite having been connected since at least since 7500 yr BP (Ryan et al., 2003).

Although many of the ancient Greek colonies around Black Sea coasts are partially drowned, the recent geoarheological studies (Brückner et al., 2010; Fouache et al., 2011) as well as our sea level data do not support major eustatic causes, but rather the wide-spread hydro-isostatic neotectonic effects typical of a marginal basin suddenly affected by the fast increase of the Black Sea level with 50-90 m during its reconnection to Mediterranean Sea after episodic isolation from the world ocean (Giosan et al., 2006).

Report 2 – 2011

It is generally accepted that the tectonic activity influenced the recent Danube delta evolution and more specifically, that Sfantu Gheorghe fault line divides the deltaic system into two major compartments. This study reconstruct the pattern of coastal morphological changes in the southern part of the Danube delta,  with a focus on the deltaic units formed near Histria ancient city. The new model of  the coastal evolution of the Histria regions traced back to the sinuous shoreline stage, represented by cliffs cut in loess locally underlain by green schist forming a fringe of marine embankments and headlands that followed the post-glacial transgression to the present day low-lying coastal system composed of beach ridge plains, sandy barriers and shallow water lagoons. This evolutionary model is of particular importance for understanding the city development and sequential territorial planning in order to adapt to the coastal morphological changes and finally the  impact of coastal changes which resulted in city’s decline and abandonment. The city’s creation during the 7thcentury BC required suitable conditions for the establishment of a successful port-city,as Histria is presented in the archaeological and epigraphical sources (Pippidi, 1983; Avram, 2004). Dated paleo-shorelines together with archeological evidence document the ancient city’s foundation on a peninsular littoral complex consisting of a rocky island, a N-S aligned beach ridge plain and a connecting tombolo-like feature developed to the lee of the rocky promontory.

A deltaic lobe developed in connection with the Danube’s southernmost branch- Dunavatz- several tens of km updrift (north) of the city between 1900 and 1300 BP.. The massive sediment input associated to a deltaic lobe formation  spread over a larger area, particularly into the downdrift direction triggering the overall yet slight decrease in seabed depths in the offshore zone of the city. The navigation on the northward and eastward navigation routes was therefore restrained by the ever shallowing waters. A hiatus of almost two millenia (2730 – 980 https://www.viagrapascherfr.com/achat-viagra-pfizer-france/ BP) has been detected in the horizontal development of the marine ridges which make up Saele beach ridge plain. This gap corresponds to the contact between two beach ridge sets with different orientation and ages (Old/Young Saele)along the C-ridge which obliquely cuts the older ones. This is particularly unusual for a prograding coast in situations where the relative sea level has been stable. This stability and the neotectonic setting is why in this case the prominent ridge is regarded as a key evidence of the tectonic history of the Histria southern hinterland. Most probably, eastward of the C-ridge the active subsidence partly drowned the beach ridges from the Old Saele and blocked, or significantly slowed down, the building of new beach ridges contemporaneous with the settlement.,

The paleogeographical reconstruction at the north of settlement reveals the Dunavăţ lobe achieved its maximum development around 1400 to 1300BP, extending downdrift close to the northern Histria coast when the city started to become decoupled from the open sea. Afterwards, its updrift and central parts were affected by an intense erosional phase following the Dunavăţ branch abandonment (Panin, 2003). After 1300 BP, the longshore drift specific to Histria’s coast increased to 1 – 1.2 x 106 m3/yr of sediments infilling the littoral cell within a few centuries, represented by the wide bay fronting the western Saele. Consequently, during 1300 – 720 BP the high progradation rates of 10 – 15 m/yr created a massive strand-plain (Saele – Chituc) both eastward and southward of the acropolis. In this context of Dunavatz deltaic lobe reworking, an alternative scenario of the C-ridge origin can be envisaged. Additionally to what is currently supposed about the nature of this contact ridge, the tectonic origin, (Vespremeanu-Stroe et al., 2013), an adjustment of the local sedimentation in the trend to achieve the equilibrium between the new sediment input and the changing circulatory pattern associated to shifting updrift or downdrift control points can be considered.  In either case, its genesis was conducive for the temporary preservation of  the open coast status of the city as otherwise the continuous trend of Saele coastline progradation would have resulted in a much earlier clogging of the city’s coast

The Saele Chituc unit was later split into two distinct units by the inception of Sinoe Lake. Contrary to previous opinions thatlinkthe genesis of Sinoe Lake to a recent marine (Histrian) transgression or to coastal morpho-dynamics (Bleahu, 1963; Vespremeanu, 2005) the morphology and the new age estimates for the formation of the Saele and Chituc strand-plains reveal the flooding of this area after beach ridge production during the last six centuries. Most probably the lake formation is associated with intensive localized subsidence.

Although many of the ancient Greek colonies around Black Sea coasts are partially drowned, the recent geoarheological studies (Brückner et al., 2010; Fouache et al., 2011) as well as continuous developement of the beach ridges during the last 5000 yrs as documented by our results , do not support major eustatic causes, but rather the wide-spread hydro-isostatic neotectonic effects typical of a marginal basin suddenly affected by the fast increase of the Black Sea level with 50-90 m during its reconnection to Mediteranean Sea after episodic isolation from the world ocean (Giosan et al., 2006).

Report 3 – 2013

Many of Greek colonies were founded along the Black Sea coast in the Archaic period (7th – 6th century BC) at locations where natural conditions were conducive for thriving socio-economic activities (Avram et al., 2004). Some of them are at present partly submerged by the Black Sea (Fornasier and Böttger, 2002; Oppermann, 2004). Histria is one of the oldest colonies that was along this coast in 657 BC during the Archaic period and is the best preserved archeological site along the Romanian coast, with little anthropogenic alteration since its abandonment during the 7th century AD. Desciphering the landscape changes during Histria’s lifetime and after its decline is an important challenge for archeologists and coastal scientists as most current scenarios relate the city’s demise to dramatic coastal transformations.

There is a commonly held archaeological assumption that during the long existence (13 centuries) of Histria, the regional topographic configuration was subject to multiple and dramatical natural changes which affected its socio-economic life. A range of archeological and geological evidence suggests Histria was originally built at an open coast location with a morphological configuration suited to high-capacity marine navigation and port activities. Epigraphical and archeological sources document the intensive trades of fish, cereals and other goods such as pottery (Alexandrescu and Schuller, 1990) which wouldnt have been possible without navigation facilities and harbors in the proximity of the ancient city. Nowadays, the acropolis of Histria lies inland from the current shoreline, within Razelm-Sinoe lagoon system (Fig. 1A). Three quarters of the last fortification (4th c. AD) lie on a green-schist outcrop (former rocky island) while the rest overlies marine sands, landward of the rocky core. The Razelm-Sinoe lagoon system is clearly delineated from the northern part of the Danube delta by the Sf. Gheorghe tectonic fault line (Ivanovici et al., 1968; Săndulescu, 1984). Unlike the evolutionary models conceived for the deltaic lobes developed to the north of the fault line, which are commonly accepted by most of the scientists (Panin, 2003; Giosan et al., 2006), there is a general lack of consensus when refering to the sandy barriers and lagoon system developed to the south, although the archeological finds provide reliable chronological proxies for coastal landscape reconstruction. Precisely datable archeological elements (such as tumuli and defensive walls) were interpreted in relation to their specific location in order to provide the first chronological references in the attempt to reconstruct the approximate position of the paleo-shorelines at Histria (Bleahu, 1963; Coteţ, 1966; Ştefan, 1987; Canarache, 1956; Pippiddi, 1983; Alexandrescu, 1978; Höckmann et al., 1996). Therefore, the majority of the coastal evolutionary scenarios are limited to the time covered by the archaeological record.

The main questions apertaining to the regional environmental changes, as formulated by archeologists in the early 20th century (Moisil, 1909; Pârvan, 1914; Lambrino, 1922) and which are  still unsolved, are: i) what was the geography of the site and coastline when the Millesians established the core of the settlement; in particular, the initial site founded upon an island, a peninsula or a part of the mainland?, ii)  when did the city become isolated from the Black Sea by progradation of the coastline, iii) what triggered the decline of the city, and iv) how did the surrounding ecology transform during and after the lifetime of the city?

Fig. 1A. Location and geography of the Histria coastal area (marked with black contour and detailed in inset B) within the Danube Delta. B. Morphology of the modern Histria region. The beach ridge orientation (black lines), topographical profiles, fault line position and the absolute ages are shown.

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The first attempts to reconstruct the ancient landscape of in and around Histria focused on the city itself and the issue of its connection to the mainland. Pârvan (1915, 1916) and  Lambrino (1938), proposed that the city had been settled on an island, occupying a rocky promontory that had no direct connection with either the mainland or the necropolis. Archeological research conducted in the 1950’s in the area surrounding the city and in the tumular necropolis led to important discoveries that supported a new hypothesis, that of a rocky promontory as part of the mainland at the time of the Greeks arrival (Condurachi et al., 1954). The grounds of this hypothesis were broadened by Canarache (1956) with a re-evaluation of archaeological findings such as aqueducts, submerged tumuli and wall remains (Fig. 2A, B).

Coteţ (1962) and Bleahu (1963) placed the ancient city at the seaward edge of a sandy littoral plain connected to the mainland towards the north and west. Later, Coteţ (1966) refined his model in considering the island as connected to the mainland only towards the necropolis (northern-western part) via a narrow tombolo. Alexandrescu (1978) and Ştefan (1987) examining aerial photographs recognised  new antique roads which pointed to a supplementary  south-western terrestrial connection over the area presently occupied by Nuntasi Lake and western Saele. Independantly, two other works dealing with the Danube delta evolution provided the first, few chronometric ages from the region (Panin, 1983, 2003; Giosan et al., 2006).

The common element in most of the archeological theories is the formation of the Razelm-Sinoe lagoon system, and implicitly of the Histria region, as a result of the barrier systems development which confined the ancient marine gulf. However, the nature of the processes which transformed the ancient gulf into a mosaic of littoral plains, beach ridges and lakes is still under debate. Most of the hypotheses invoke eustatic sea level oscillations as the main controlling factor of morphological changes (Bleahu,1963; Coteţ, 1966; Alexandrescu, 1978, Pippiddi, 1983; Panin, 1983, 2003), whilst a few suggest the combined action of the neotectonics, erosion and coastal progradation as key-processes which contributed to the present day morphology (Canarache, 1956; Giosan et al., 2006). Currently, the paleogeographical evolution of the Histria region remains controversial, with numerous hypotheses and a lack of chronological synthesis of the evolutionary phases.

Fig. 2. A. The age and location of Histria walls and tumuli. Roman aqueducts paths and the coring sites detailed in Fig. 4 are shown. B. Cross-section showing the wall succesion and the archaic and post-archaic archeo-deposits (modified after Alexandrescu, 1978).

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In this context, this paper addresses the first two questions mentioned above using new geomorphological, sedimentological and absolute age data. We also present a new interpretation of the Late Holocene evolution of the southern Danube Delta, focused on the Histria region and in the light of the newly-obtained absolute chronology to establish the key-events succession which lead to the actual configuration. The study also proposes a sea level curve for the Histria region taking into account the local tectonics.


The Histria region is a low-lying coastal plain developed at the contact between Central Dobrogea (Casimcea tableland) and the Black Sea, comprising beach ridge plains (Saele and Chituc), sandy barriers (Lupilor barrier) and shallow lakes (Sinoe, Histria and Nuntaşi) which together form the southernmost unit of the Danube delta (Fig. 1A, B). The Histria acropolis lies 8 km inland from the present Black Sea shoreline on a green schist outcrop which was chosen by the early Greek colonists to be the political and religious center of the city. This rocky promontory is a former island with an maximum altitude of 7 m asl, currently located on the landward shoreline of the Sinoe Lake which is the southern compartment of the Razelm-Sinoe lagoon complex, the largest lacustrine system (867 km2) formed during the Late Holocene in the western part of the Black Sea. It consists of four lakes (Razelm, Goloviţa, Zmeica and Sinoe) which are delineated by sandy barriers and beach ridge plains, inter-connected by natural and artificial channels. The main water and sediment supply comes from the Sfântu Gheorghe arm (the present southernmost Danube arm) through Dunavăţ and Dranov channels, which before channelisation works (1912) had been secondary natural branches of the Sf. Gheorghe arm (Antipa, 1914). The mean water discharged through the two channels is 48 m3/s  while the lacustrine water discharged into the sea is 41 m3/s (Breier, 1976).

Geologically, the Histria region extends over two main geotectonic units: (i) the North Dobroudjan Orogen (Babadag sedimentary basin composed of Cretaceous limestones), present in the northern part of Sinoe lake, which is delineated to the north by the Sf. Gheorghe fault and to the south by Peceneaga-Camena crustal fault, and ii) the Central Dobrogea (Casimcea Tableland made up of Precambrian green schists), present in the southern sector of Sinoe Lake, extended from Peceneaga – Camena crustal fault (N) to Capidava-Ovidiu fault (S). The northern unit of the Histria region is a smaller compartent of the Babadag sedimentary basin which represents an NW-SE elongated syncline which dips eastwards into the Black Sea Romanian continental shelf (Atanasiu, 1940; Ianovici et al., 1968). The southern morphotectonic unit of Histria is divided by several superimposed anticlines and synclines that influenced the present morphologic configuration, i.g. the area in that the green schist rocky outcrop over which lies Histria’s acropolis is coincident with the Histria – Saele anticline axis, while the Histria lake overlies Fantanele –Saele syncline axis (Dimitriu et al., 2004). The Histria region is located within a highly active neotectonic zone where the subsiding rates of up to 4mm/yr occur, which represent the greatest value recorded along the Romanian coastal zone (Polonic et al., 1999). Taking into consideration the neotectonic movements and the long term sea level rise recent investigations suggest that important archeo-cultural layers are burried at 4-5 m depth (Dimitriu, 2012).

Fig. 3. Shoreline position and coastal configuration of the Histria region (southern Danube Delta) at different times of evolution. The paleogeographical reconstuction is based on the new absolute dating, and on the morphological interpretation of the current research.

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Southwards (downdrift) of the acropolis-host rocky promontory has formed the drift-aligned Saele beach ridge plain (3 km wide and 9.5 km long).  The distinctive morphostratigraphical feature of Saele beach ridge plain is the most prominent ridge (C-ridge), NE-SW aligned, which divides the Saele plain into two sets of ridges (Fig. 1B). The beach ridge plain is a morphological feature which generally forms in conditions of wave dominated coasts fronted by a wide, low-gradient continental shelf with an abundant sediment supply (Masselink and Hugues, 2003). At present the Saele beach ridge plain is fronted seaward by Sinoe Lake and Chituc barrier and backed by Istria and Nuntaşi Lakes. These latter two lakes are situated at the contact between Casimcea Tableland and the Histria lowland with lacustrine shorelines generally steep (2-10 m high), cut in loess, which overlies narrow green schists platform in places. Further northward and westward, beyond Istria and Nuntaşi lakes, the mainland consists of a green schist bedrock covered by a 2-15 m of loess. An important topographical characteristic of the region is represented by the gentle and constant dipping of the surface to the E and SE. At 2-5 km seaward of the Saele beach ridge plain lies Chituc beach ridge plain which encloses the Sinoe Lake. Southern Chituc has a similar morphology to Saele plain, with juxtaposed beach ridges of 0.7 – 1.5 m height with dunes on the highest of them; northern Chituc has the same basic morphology but at a lower elevation.

The Histria region currently lies within a dry-temperate climate with a mean annual rainfall of 380 mm and moderate to high seasonal thermal amplitudes (-0.5 °C / 21.8 °C). On the present coast (Chituc) the significant wave height is of 1.43 m (medium-wave energy environment, cf. Vespremeanu-Stroe and Tătui, 2011) while the prevalent northern winds impose a net southward longshore sediment transport of about 0.6 – 0.7 x 106 m3 y-1 (Dan et al., 2007).

The beach ridges, marshy flats and the lakes from Histria region have been investigated by means of geomorphological, sedimentological and geochronological methods. The coring strategy aimed to obtain basic lithostratigraphic information from all relevant sedimentary units with a focus on the Saele plain and the ancient city’s surroundings. The coring used a Cobra TT percussion device (corerheads of 8 and 5 cm diameter) and boreholes used a 6 cm diameter hand auger. The core database consists of: i) 14 cores of 4 to 7 m depth, within the ancient city area and surrounding marshy flats, ii) 6 cores of 1-3 m depth in the Istria, Nuntaşi and Sinoe Lakes, and iii) 35 boreholes up to 3 m depth distributed across a transect on Saele beach ridge plain. The cores and borehole sediments were described on site (colour, grain-size, texture, main minerals, macrofaunal and artefacts composition) The textural parameters have been determined by sieving. The mineralogic examination was undertaken on 0.03 – 0.50 mm siliciclastic fraction obtained after preliminary sieving and 16% HCl and 10% peroxide treatment for carbonates and organic matter removal. More than 1000 grains from each sample have been immersed in glycerine and inspected using a polarizing microscope.

As the elevation and sedimentary architecture of the prograding beach ridges can be used to derive the past sea level (Goy et al., 2004; Clemmensen and Nielsen, 2010) we dated different sandy ridges and barriers for the reconstruction of both sea-level and coastline evolution. A total of 15 Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) ages and one 14C age have been determined in order to construct a chronological framework of the regional sedimentary units and to track the shoreline position before, during and after Histria’s occupation. The OSL sampling strategy consisted of transversal profiles over the barriers and beach ridges, parallel to coastal progradation, to get an insight into the shoreline adjustments (migration rates) and to infer the stages of coastal evolution. Four sand samples were processed at IRCBNS (Babeş-Bolyai University from Cluj-Napoca, RO) and eleven at Gloucestershire University (UK), by applying multi-grain, single-aliquot regeneration (SAR) (Murray and Wintle, 2000, 2003) to fine sand sized quartz. The natural and regenerative-dose preheats ranged between 200 and 280°C for 10, with the elected thermal treatment driven by dose recovery tests. A test dose of 5 Gy followed by a preheat of 220°C for 10s was used to monitor and correct for sensitivity change. The analytical validity of equivalent dose estimation by SAR was further assessed through recycling and recuperation tests. Dose rate was determined by in situ NaI (where feasible) and ex situ Ge gamma spectrometry, accounting for the effects of grain size and present moisture content and overburden.

OSL samples were collected from beach foreshore deposits, assuring they were entirely below sand dunes. All cores and OSL sampling positions were levelled and altitudinally benchmarked relative to MSL with a Leica SR 530 RTK  DGPS ( ±3 mm vertical error and ± 1 cm lateral error).

The radiocarbon ages have been obtained using the Oxcal calibration software (Rethemeyer et al., 2012) to which the Marine 09 calibration curve (Reimer et al., 2009), a reservoir age of 440±40 yr BP and a standard deviation ΔR 75±60 (Siani et al., 2001) have been considered to obtain the final age.

Additionally, 5 transverse and longitudinal topographical profiles, summing 30 km, were surveyed over Saele and Chituc units in order to determine the beach-ridges altitude and spacing. Within the dated beach deposits the top of the foreshore-backshore facies and, if sand dunes where present, the wave-borne/wind-borne sediments contact were used as a sea-level indicator (van Heteren et al., 2000; Giosan et al., 2006). Seasonal topographical surveys of several modern Danube delta coast sectors show that subaerial beach altitudes, on which foredunes may develop, can vary between 0.7 and 1.1 m. Therefore, 0.9 m was subtracted from the absolute height of the sampled dune-free beach ridges and from each interface between dune sand and beach sand. The altitude error of the sea-level index points combines those errors from the assessment of the dune/beach interface (± 10 cm), or of the beach top (± 10 cm) with the indicative range of the beach altitudes (± 20 cm).

Fig. 4. Stratigraphy of the marshy flats and lakes (H – H3), acropolis (H4 – H7) and of the beach ridges (H8). For coring site location see Fig. 2A


Morphological evolution of the Histria region

Tracking the morphological changes, particularly of the shoreline position during and after the occupation of the city is challenging, as this is the site with the most complex coastal dynamics along the Romanian Black Sea coast. Its morphological evolution was successively controlled by: i) a sinuous shoreline which influenced the pattern of longshore sediments circulation, ii) the tectonic fragmentation of the region where the neotectonic activity generated differential subsiding and stable compartments, and iii) the progressive development of the deltaic lobes updrift of this site, which increased the coastal sedimentary budget.

Pre-Histria colonisation (4000 – 2650 BP) 

Irrespective of the differing scenarios for the Early Holocene oscillations of the Black Sea’s level – catastrophic flood proposed by Ryan et al., (1997) and Ballard et al., (2000) or gradual rise as proposed by Aksu et al., (1999) and Hiscott et al., (2002) – its waters were reconnected with the Mediterranean Sea by at least 7500 BP rising concomitantly to the modern sea-level by ca. 5000 BP (Pirazzoli, 1991; Giosan et al., 2006). From this moment on the region of Histria evolved from a moderately-indented coast (coastline sinuosity index: 1.7), composed of a succession of bays and rocky promontories which limited the longshore sediment circulation (Fig. 3A), to a smooth sandy shoreline conforming to the tendency of such systems towards equilibrium (Johnson, 1919). As the region was subject to an intense coastal progradation there is a net tendency for the sedimentary units to become younger eastwards; this was later complicated by neotectonics that caused the submergence of some of these units.

According to our chronostratigraphic results, the present Istria and Nuntaşi lakes, representing the westernmost territories, achieved the pre-colonisation configuration in two distinct phases: i) the marine gulf phase, which started slightly before the stabilization of the postglacial sea-level rise, and ii) the beach ridge plain formation phase during which the gulfs have been gradually filled up by drift-aligned beach barriers, which later (ca. 5000 BP; Fig. 1B) were juxtaposed laterally and permitted the development of a continuous beach ridge plain in front of them – Saele.

The position of the sandy coastline (Saele) at the dawn of Greek colonization was determined by correlating the mean progradation rate of 1.3 m/yr, recorded during 3330 – 2730 BP interval with the geographical coordinates defining the beach ridges dated to 850 BC ± 287 yrs and 730 BC ± 270 yrs. This algorithm projected the shoreline position by that time at a distance of 540 ± 350 m landward of the island. Presently, for more than 500 m in the lee of the island, the sandy ridges cannot be seen due to the 2 – 4 m thick archeological deposits, but outside of this area, the naturally curved beach ridges suggest that cuspate forelands, salients, and even tombolo features developed in the 1st millennium BC. Sunamura and Mizuno (1987) found that tombolos develop when the J/I ratio of the distance between sandy coast and an island (J) and the alongshore length of an island (I) is lower than 1.5, while salients initiate for ratios of 1.5 – 3.5. At Histria, the J/I ratio, computed at the time of its foundation is 1.4 (0.5 – 2.3, considering the age resolution) and suggests the existence of a wide tombolo as the most probable scenario (Fig. 3B).

Histria colonisation (2650 – 1350 BP)

The tombolo scenario is supported by the limited area of archaic deposits, which although spread over the entire Western Plateau are missing for about 300 m between the acropolis and the western residential districts. Here, it is likely that the fragile coastal features, exposed to regular coastal storms and floods, were inappropriate for continuous accommodation (Fig. 2B). The new OSL chronology together with the archeological testimonies support the hypothesis of the ancient city’s foundation on a peninsular shaped littoral complex composed of a rocky promontory fronting a beach ridge plain, a connecting sandy barrier (tombolo) and a small inlet channel draining the loess-covered bedrock hinterland to the east. The direct succession of the five OSL ages (S1 – S5) over the first 1800 m of the western Saele, between 5000 – 2730 BP, demonstrates the pre-existence of at least 2 km wide strandplain (the Saele) joining the rocky promontory, at the time of the Greeks arrival. Consequently, the colony was founded both on the green-schist outcrop, on which the city center was built, and over the adjacent sandy units where residential districts were established (Zirra, 1953; Alexandrescu, 1978). The oldest tumuli dated to 6th – 5th century BC are grouped in the central and southern parts of the hilly necropolis, while the second generation (4th – 1st c. BC) is spread from the hilly necropolis to the western Saele strandplain, over the actual submerged area between the acropolis and necropolis (Fig. 2A), presently occupied by Istria Lake (Alexandrescu, 1966,  1978).

Archeological excavations from the 1950’s found submerged ruins of a residential area in the central part of Istria Lake on a supposed loess island (Zirra, 1953). They were interpreted as having been built on a terrestrial area similar to that which currently surrounds the lake. The artifacts submerged position has been explained by their emplacement during the Phanagorian Regression when the sea level was 2 – 4 m lower (Bleahu, 1963), or by the combined action of the recent sea level rise and mainland drowning (Canarache, 1956). The stratigraphy from Istria and Sinoe lakes (including the marshy area between them) revealed marine sands below 0.8-1.5 m lake deposits of silts and clays. Textural and mineralogical analyses undertaken on these sands within the deepest cores (H1, H2) demonstrated distinct horizons for the upper and lower parts (Fig. 5A). The grain size frequency curve for the deeper layers shows very well sorted, fine and very fine sands. The upper layer sands are poorly-sorted with a wide bimodal curve indicating the presence of both fine and coarse sands. The mineralogical elements which compose the two sedimentary layers are mainly represented by: 78% quartz, 0.5% mica, 14% feldspars in the upper layers and 55% quartz, 18 % mica and  8% feldspar in the lower part (Fig. 5B); it is also noticeable the concentrations of chlorite, sericite and green schist fragments, derived from local bedrock, which are up to 10 times higher in the lower sands in comparison with the surface horizons. The two sediment fractions, with marked differences in texture and mineralogy, seem to reflect different sources, most probably Danubian sands and reworked loess in the upper layer while the bottom layer comprises higher percentages of older sands originating from local sources: e.g. proximal green schist sea cliff erosion and Istria river-born sediments.

In the Histrian plateau, H4, H5 and H6 cores (Fig. 2A) display marine sands which underly the archeological deposits. Below that, in core H4 the green-schist bedrock was intercepted, whereas core H5 presented a clayey deposit capped by a thin layer of detrital peat which could not be dated. The basal H5 layers seem to indicate an early stage of the region and a fluvial feature (e.g. floodplain lake).

Fig. 5. A. Mean grain size distribution along H2 core indicating different populations. B. Mineralogical content of the upper and lower sandy layers from H1 and H2 cores


The detailed bathymetric survey of the Razelm-Sinoe lagoon complex, carried by the National Institute of Marine Geology, mapped five submerged fossil sandy ridges representing the extensions of the most consolidated beach ridges from Lupilor barrier (Dimitriu et al., 2008). Their curved aspect, from NW-SE to W-E in a seaward direction, indicates the present-day Lupilor barrier as being the distal part of the sandy ridges composing the downdrift wing of a former deltaic lobe, corresponding to the Dunavăţ branch (Fig. 3B). The overall aspect of the Lupilor barrier, with the downdrift segments of the sandy ridges, is similar to that of the Crasnicol barrier which also supports the downdrift wing of a contemporary deltaic lobe (the Sf. Gheorghe 2, Panin, 2003). This barrier type expresses an evolutionary signature of the downdrift sides of the asymmetric wave-dominated deltaic lobes from the Danube delta, where significant river-borne muds impose a fast extension of the delta plain with the encasing of sub-parallel sandy ridges that originated as barrier islands or beach barriers (Bhattacharya and Giosan, 2003).

The existence of the Dunavăţ lobe was first proposed by Panin (1983, 2003), which called it the Coşna – Sinoe Delta, who estimated its age at 3500 – 1500 BP. The new OSL ages derived from early (L1, L2 samples) to late (I1, C1 samples) evolutionary stages of the Dunavăţ lobe sets its age to 1900 – 1300 BP, making it younger and more active than previously considered. It is likely that this rapid deltaic lobe development led to shallower waters in the offshore zone of the city and hindered boat circulation on the northward and eastward navigation routes. When tracking the southern shoreline position (the Saele) since the time of the colonization, the maintenance of the former progradation rate (1 – 1.5 m/yr) can be deduced from beach ridge succession for at least the first century. This trend was interrupted as reflected by the C-ridge position that cut the western set of the Saele beach ridges. The interruption of the beach ridges cannot be ascribed to any change in the local marine factors which could induce coastal erosion, as the coast extended south of the city functioned as a sediment trap for the longshore circulation (littoral cell end). In this case, the C-ridge discordant incision may reflect significant tectonic deformation produced sometime between 2700 – 980 BP, which corresponds with a marked hiatus, for more than 1500 years, within beach ridge succession. The abrupt disappearance of the distal end of the older ridges under the younger ones, formed in the last millennium, suggests that the former have been drowned. Seemingly, this process was decisive for the maintenance of an open coast to the east of the city, which otherwise would have been incorporated much earlier within the marine strandplains (Saele). However, the younger eastern set of the ridges is currently subaerial, without clear decreasing trends in transversal profile (Fig. 6), indicating the cessation or the slowing of the subsidence, previously recorded east of the C-ridge.

Post – Histria colonisation (1350 BP – present)

A transversal topographical survey on the northern Saele strandplain reveals the dominant position of the C-ridge, corresponding to the contact between the Old (western) and Young (eastern) Saele (Fig. 6). The cross-plain profiles within each of the Saele units (western / eastern) display a subhorizontal lateral development of the ridges conformable with their OSL age estimates, indicating an un-fractured terrestrial unit. However, the increase in the height of aeolian deposition on the beach ridges from the extreme west Saele could indicate a slow subsidence (≤ 0.5 mm/yr) of this peripheral area. The C-ridge rises up to 2-3 m above the mean level of the plain in its northern part and gradually decreases in altitude and width towards the south where it diminishes, but remains within the general architecture of the Saele plain. The C-ridge is made up primarily of juvenile shells and fragments of shells (e.g. Mytilus sp., Cardium sp.) disposed in layers of different degrees of compaction. The C-ridge seems to follow a fault alignment, eastward of which the former sandy ridges were drowned, and the new set of Young Saele developed between 980 –720 BP owing to Danubian sediments reaching the area by longshore drift. Based on volumetric reconstruction, the location of OSL age estimates and the elevation of sandy ridges and closure depth (-10 m), the longshore sediment transport specific to non-restricted sediment conditions (post 980 BP) on the eastern Saele coast was computed as 1.0 – 1.2 x 106 m3/yr. The Young Saele was built much faster than the Old Saele, concomitantly with a clockwise rotation of coastline progradation direction from W-E to NW-SE. This is likely related to the gradual infilling of this downdrift bay, representing the end of the littoral cell. The progradation rate of the Young Saele shoreline, reflected by the OSL ages, was ten times higher than for the western set of the ridges (Old Saele), measuring 10-15 m/yr with greater values recorded downdrift, in the south. We interpret this high progradation rate as reflecting a sudden increase of sediment input into a low wave-energy environment. The newly obtained ages indicate that abundant sediment influx reached the Histria region around 1400-1300 BP (L3, C1 samples). Taking into consideration the beach ridge orientation pattern, we assume this scenario occurred when the prominent Dunavăţ deltaic lobe situated updrift started to erode, supplying sediments to the longshore currents which moved them downdrift, to a sheltered location.

Some 2-5 km east of the Saele, at approximately the same latitude, lies the Chituc beach ridge plain. The present study proposes an absolute chronology that indicates inception of this ridge plain 1.3 ka BP as a drift-aligned barrier orientated ca. E-W (Fig. 3B). Further downdrift, the beach ridges align at an ever decreasing angle, becoming NE-SW orientated achieving a plan-view equilibrium when the shoreline becomes more perpendicular to the predominant swell (Hsu et al., 2010). The Chituc strandplain is considered the youngest marine feature, due to its extreme seaward position, with an inception age estimated sometime from the 2nd century BC (Pippidi, 1983) to the 3rd century AD (Bleahu, 1963) or the 6thcentury AD (Coteţ, 1966; Panin, 1983, 2003). In this case, the 1300 BP age of its oldest ridge (northern sector) is in agreement with the youngest estimates previously suggested. Magnetometric investigations undertaken over bottom sediments of the Sinoe Lake suggest the continuity of the eastern Saele beach ridges with those from Chituc barrier (Mihăilescu et al., 1983; Dimitriu et al., 2004). Although most authors noticed the similarity between the eastern Saele and Chituc beach ridges, they still consider them to be of different age. They attribute the present Sinoe lagoon configuration to the formation of the Chituc barrier, as a result of a marine transgressive phase (Bleahu, 1963; Coteţ, 1966; Panin, 1983, 2003). Recently, Giosan et al. (2006) proposed two possible scenarios: either they formed simultaneously, probably on each side of an inlet, or the Chituc formed after the Saele. The present OSL age estimates (S5, S6, S7, S8, C2, C3), as well as the magnetometric signal of the lacustrine sediments and sandy ridge geometry, reveal the coevolution of the eastern Saele and Chituc which formed a continuous beach ridge plain for an interval spanning 980 – 720 BP at least. The ages recorded on eastern Saele are the same as those from central Chituc, while the last interval of formation (320 BP – present) corresponds to the southern Chituc formation.

Fig. 6. Topography of the Chituc and Saele beach ridge plains. The y-axis (elevation) is identical for both profiles to comparatively assess the depressed profile of the northern Chituc and the subhorizontal profile of Saele, interrupted by C-ridge morphology.


The massive Saele-Chituc strandplain divided in two when the Sinoe Lake appeared. As the youngest beach ridges currently submerged by the Sinoe Lake waters are 780 – 720 BP, we have to assume a maximum age of lake inception in its southern part of ca. 700 BP. Sinoe banks are rectilinear, cut NNE-SSW, and parallel to the others lake banks from the region (Istria and Nuntaşi) which are delineated in the same direction, revealing they all have a tectonically-induced origin (Fig. 1B). Their common geometry indicates the presence of the NNE-SSW active faults, perpendicular to the major WNW-ESE tectonic faults; collectively they appear consistent with the regionally subsiding blocks.

Over the last 1300 years the evolution of the Dunavăţ lobe was marked by strong erosion along its updrift and central parts after the Dunavăţ branch abandonment (Panin, 2003). Also, the locally active subsidence forced the submergence of the downdrift part of the lobe, enabling the inception of the Sinoe northern basin and ultimately destroying most of the Dunavăţ lobe whose remnant is the Lupilor barrier. Estimates of the timing of the Nuntaşi and Istria lakes formation (mean depth of -1 m), whose surficial bottom sediments have been wave-reworked during regional storms, were made both by 14C dating of an articulated shell (710 ± 90 BP) placed within lacustrine muds, close to the marine-lacustrine interface, and from the extrapolation of the sedimentation rates.

Analysis of the lacustrine shorelines extracted from topographical maps and satellite images covering the last 120 years (1884, 1961, 1979 and 2008) points to a moderate erosion acting on 42 % and 35 % of the total length of Nuntaşi and Istria rocky shores, respectively, mainly cut into loess. The mean retreat rates (1 m/yr Nuntaşi, 0.8 m/yr Istria) multiplied by the length and height of the erosional sectors gives an annual overall respective wave-displaced sediment volume of 7200 m3 and 1700 m3, which relative to their present surface corresponds to a sedimentation rate of ca. 1.5 mm/yr, respectively 1.2 mm/yr.

In order to estimate the maximum ages of lake formation, the mean width of bottom sediments was reported to the modern sedimentation rates (assumed to be equal or smaller than the previous ones) producing age estimates of ca. 1200 BP and 900 BP for the Nuntaşi and Istria lakes, respectively.


Late Holocene sea level curve for Histria 

The discovery of numerous submerged archeological elements (tumuli and walls) within the Istria and Sinoe Lakes, led to the common interpretation that they were built during a regressive phase contemporaneous with the date of first colonization. Moreover, the submergence of some structures shown to have been built on subaerial marine sands, as well as Sinoe Lake formation, was related to a marine transgression phase locally named the “Histrian transgression” (Bleahu, 1963,Vespremeanu, 2005).  Consequently, when considering the landscape changes of Histria’s low-lying hinterland, most studies invoke eustatic sea level changes (Coteţ, 1962, 1966; Bleahu, 1963; Panin, 1983, 2003; Vespremeanu, 2005) while just a few appreciate neotetectonics or lake bank morphodynamics among the main controlling factors (Canarache, 1956; Giosan et al., 2006). The eustatic theory of the Histria landscape evolution was linked by the Phanagorian regression concept of Fedorov (1957) which first explained the submerged position of the Phanagoria lower city as being built during a Black Sea low-stand. Since then, most of the studies on the Mid and Late Holocene evolution of the Black Sea’s level commonly presumed a high-stand of 2–5 m at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, followed by a major drop in the 1st millennium BC of 5–10 m relative to the present, corresponding to the Phanagorian regression (Fedorov, 1957, 1977; Shilik, 1975; Chepalyga, 1984; Vespremeanu, 2005; Balabanov, 2009).

In order to derive a valid sea level curve for the region of Histria all the dates from the relatively stable beach ridge plains, covering the last four millennia were used (Fig. 7A). Surprisingly, a stable relative sea-level characterized the 1000 BC – 1000 AD, including the interval of Histria’s flourishing occupation, and suggests the absence of large-amplitude eustatic oscillations (Fig. 7B). During this period, the mean sea-level position was about -0.7 m, within the range of -0.2 m and -1.2 m of the current Black Sea’s level, followed by a slow, gradual rise over the last millennium. The only available sea-level indicators older than 3000 BP found within the western part of the Old Saele which seems to be affected by slow subsidence. Although the subsidence could explain the lowering of the oldest sea-level indicator (5000 BP) it is difficult to assess if the sea level rose or was relatively stable.  The different positions occupied on the sea-level curve by the contemporaneous sea-level indicators show active neotectonics. This is the case of the lowered position of the beach ridges and dune/beach interface from the Chituc northern half, compared to the eastern Saele, which points to a moderate subsidence rate (~ 0.5 mm/yr) that affects this unit, promoting lake inception and strong coastal erosion with 4-8 m/yr in shoreline retreating rate (Vespremeanu-Stroe et al., 2007). Further, the topographical surveys carried across Chituc highlight the northwardly depressed profile of this unit which also suggests its subsidence.

Fig. 7. A. Black Sea-level curve derived for the southern Danube Delta based on the age and altitude of the aeolian / marine deposits interface within the beach ridge plains. B. Different Late-Holocene sea level curves produced for the Black-Sea (adapted after Fouache et al., 2011). Note the lack of correspondence between the current research and the previous sea-level curves postulating the presence of significant highstands (Old Black Sea) and lowstands (Phanagorian).

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Field Code Lab Code Overburden (m) Grain size (mm) Moisture Content (%) NaI g-spectrometry (in situ) Ge g-spectrometry (ex situ) Preheat

 (°C for 10s)

Low Dose Repeat Ratio Post-IR OSL Ratio De (Gy) Age (ka)
          K (%) Th (ppm) U (ppm) K (%) Th (ppm) U (ppm)          
S6 GL09124 1.25 125-180 15 ± 4 0.61 ± 0.04 1.45 ± 0.28 0.49 ± 0.05 200 0.94 ± 0.04 0.44 ± 0.02 0.84 ± 0.06 0.99 ± 0.10
S7 GL09125 0.95 125-180 20 ± 5 1.03 ± 0.05 2.87 ± 0.33 0.75 ± 0.06 240 0.76 ± 0.08 0.99 ± 0.05 1.11 ± 0.08 0.89 ± 0.10
S8 GL09126 1.10 125-180 17 ± 4 0.43 ± 0.02 2.43 ± 0.14 1.51 ± 0.10 0.78 ± 0.04 3.70 ± 0.35 1.11 ± 0.07 280 0.79 ± 0.18 0.83 ± 0.08 0.87 ± 0.07 0.72 ± 0.07
C1 GL09127 0.75 125-180 20 ± 5 0.82 ± 0.04 3.68 ± 0.36 1.05 ± 0.07 280 0.76 ± 0.19 1.02 ± 0.07 1.56 ± 0.07 1.3 ± 0.1
L1 GL10057 0.60 125-180 15 ± 4 0.23 ± 0.02 2.34 ± 0.14 1.14 ± 0.10 0.43 ± 0.03 2.95 ± 0.31 0.89 ± 0.07 240 0.99 ± 0.05 0.91 ± 0.04 1.72 ± 0.10 1.9 ± 0.2
 L2 GL10058 0.80 125-180 21 ± 5 0.57 ± 0.02 1.78 ± 0.12 1.15 ± 0.08 0.95 ± 0.05 2.85 ± 0.31 0.83 ± 0.06 240 0.98 ± 0.08 1.00 ± 0.06 2.02 ± 0.14 1.7 ± 0.2
L3 GL10059 0.70 125-180 18 ± 5 0.52 ± 0.01 1.43 ± 0.11 0.71 ± 0.07 0.79 ± 0.04 2.08 ± 0.33 0.73 ± 0.06 240 0.95 ± 0.05 1.01 ± 0.04 1.44 ± 0.07 1.4 ± 0.1
OS1 GL11003 0.74 125-180 21 ± 5 0.53 ± 0.02 2.46 ± 0.13 1.31 ± 0.09 1.01 ± 0.05 2.70 ± 0.34 0.76 ± 0.07 200 0.95 ± 0.03 0.78 ± 0.02 2.85 ± 0.29 2.3 ± 0.3
S1 GL11004 1.3 125-180 22 ± 5 0.59 ± 0.02 1.88 ± 0.12 1.09 ± 0.09 1.00 ± 0.05 2.69 ± 0.42 0.83 ± 0.07 260 0.79 ± 0.04 0.98 ± 0.03 6.04 ± 0.33 5.0 ± 0.4
C3 GL11005 0.60 180-250 18 ± 4 0.99 ± 0.05 2.65 ± 0.41 0.82 ± 0.07 240 0.99 ± 0.03 0.43 ± 0.01 0.39 ± 0.02 0.32 ± 0.03
C2 GL11006 0.60 180-250 12 ± 3 0.56 ± 0.02 1.77 ± 0.12 1.09 ± 0.09 0.48 ± 0.03 18.86 ± 0.93 3.90 ± 0.18 240 0.99 ± 0.03 0.55 ± 0.02 1.24 ± 0.07 0.78 ± 0.06
S2 UBB-R1 1.00 125-180 27 ± 4 0.87 ± 0.03 2.59 ± 0.10 0.86 ± 0.05 200 1.01 ± 0.01 0.97 ± 0.02 3.53 ± 0.12 3.33 ± 0.28
S3 UBB-R1_2 0.95 125-180 23 ± 6 0.86 ± 0.03 3.38 ± 0.10 1.23 ± 0.10 200 1.06 ±  0.04 1.05 ± 0.07 3.38 ± 0.19 3.05 ± 0.34
S4 UBB-R2 1.00 125-180 16 ± 3 0.63 ± 0.02 2.19 ± 0.10 0.66 ± 0.03 200 1.01 ± 0.01 0.95 ± 0.01 2.57 ± 0.06 2.85 ± 0.29
C4 UBB-PS_2 1.00 125-180 24 ± 4 0.82 ± 0.02 3.06 ± 0.20 0.93 ± 0.01 200 0.93 ± 0.04 0.97 ± 0.03 0.32 ± 0.02 0.30 ± 0.03
S5 UBB-R3 0.85 125-180 20 ± 4 0.74 ± 0.02 2.56 ± 0.10 0.88 ± 0.03 200 1.02 ± 0.03 0.97 ± 0.03 3.04 ± 0.08 2.73 ± 0.27


Table 1 Dr, De and Age data of submitted samples located at c. 45°N, 29°E, 0 m asl. Age estimates expressed relative to 2010, the year of sampling. Uncertainties in age are quoted at 1s confidence, are based on analytical errors and reflect combined systematic and experimental variability. Equivalent dose (De) values are based upon the SAR protocol (Murray and Wintle, 2000; 2003) applied to standard 8mm, multi-grain aliquots of quartz, assessed for feldspar contaimination using post-IR OSL (Duller, 2003). A test dose of 5 Gy was used to monitor for sensitivity changes followed by a preheat of 10 s to 220 oC in the case of samples GL, while in the case of samples UBB the magnitude of the test dose was of of 1.6 Gy, respectively 0.3 Gy in the case of sample PS_2, followed by a thermal treatment consisting of ramp heating (cutheat) to 160 oC. An elevated temperature OSL treatment (ETOSL- 40 s blue light stimulation at 280 oC)  was employed at the end of each SAR cycle.Poor recycling ratios for repeats of low regenerative-doses are caused  by the  low OSL signal to noise ratio. Errors quoted for the equivalend doses are only random errors. In the  case of samples GL, the lithogenic dose rate (Dr) values draw upon the conversion factors of Adamiec and Aitken (1998), and account for Dr modulation forced by grain size (Mejdahl, 1979) and present moisture content (Zimmerman, 1971). Cosmogenic Dr values were calculated on the basis of sample depth, geomagnetic latitude of 45°N and matrix density of 2.5 g.cm-3 (Prescott and Hutton, 1994). The same procedures have been applied for UBB samples, except the fact that the gamma dose was computed based on the specific activities of radionuclides determined through high resolution gamma ray spectrometry. For UBB samples the errors in radionuclide specific activity and dose rate represent random errors.




1. L. Preoteasa, I. Bîrzescu, D. Haganu,  A. Vespremeanu-Stroe – Schimbări morfologice în regiunea Histria produse în timpul și după declinul cetății, Studii și Cercetări de Istorie Veche și Arheologie, tom 63, nr. 3-4, 2012, p. 201-223;

2. L. Preoteasa, A. Vespremeanu-Stroe, D. Hanganu, O. Katona, A. Timar-Gabor – Coastal changes from open coast to present lagoon system in Histria region (Danube Delta), Journal of Coastal Research, nr. 65, p. ;

3. A. Vespremeanu-Stroe, L. Preoteasa,  D. Hanganu, A. Brown, I. Bîrzescu,  Ph. Toms, A. Gabor-Timar – The impact of the Late Holocene changes on the rise and decay of the ancient city of Histria (Southern Danube Delta), Quaternary International, 293, 2013, p. 245-256; – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1040618212033575

4. Diana Hanganu – Histria, studiu de geo-aerheologie, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Bucharest, 2012;

5. Preoteasa, L., Vespremeanu-Stroe, A., Tatui, F. – Cyclic evolution model of the Sf. Gheorghe deltaic lobe, Geomorphology, submitted;

Presence at international symposia

1. Alfred Vespremeanu-Stroe, Luminița Preoteasa, Diana Hanganu, Iulian Bîrzescu, Alida Timar-Gabor  – Impactul schimbărilor morfologice din Holocenul Târziu asupra cetății HistriaSimpozionul Național de Geomorfologie, 14-17 of June 2012, Baru Mare, Romania.

2. Iulian Bîrzescu, Diana Hanganu, Luminița Preoteasa, Alfred Vespremeanu-Stroe, Tony Brown, Phillip Toms – Landscape changes and human activities in the Histrian region (southern Danube delta) in the first millennium BC – 2nd International Landscape Archaeology Conference 2012, Berlin, Germany, 6th–9th June 2012. – Poster