Paleo-climate of Lampedusa

We have described the phenomenon of the sea level rise in the Mediterranean sea which started at the end of the Younger Dryas stadial or approximately 11,500 years ago when the climate warmed significantly, causing a process of accelerated deglaciation and we have described in particular the paleo hydrography of Lampedusa by reverse engineering from studies about Sicily and North Africa. Now we will follow the same approach to reverse-engine the paleo-climate of Lampedusa. We will start our description of the Lampedusa's paleo-climate from the period known as the Neolithic Subpluvial (or the “Holocene Wet Phase” or the “First Green Sahara Phase” ) which lasted approximately from 7500-7000 BC to about 3500/3000 BC and  brought wet and rainy conditions in the climate history of northern Africa. The Neolithic Subpluvial began during the 7th millennium BC, its most humid phase lasted approximately 2000 years thereafter it waned and ended around 3,500/3,000 BC when drier conditions returned and desertification advanced. From the end of the Neolithic Subpluvial arid conditions have continued through to the present day.  During the Neolithic Subpluvial some regions of North Africa had hydrographic profiles significantly different from today with lakes much deeper and wider with alternative drainages: the Sahara supported a savanna type of ecosystem, with a rich variety of wildlife including elephants and giraffes and other animals which now live only in the Sahel region south of the desert. During the Neolithic Subpluvial, the environment of the Maghreb was open savanna, much like modern East Africa, with Mediterranean forests at higher altitudes. 
Prehistoric rock art  scenes in the Acacus Mountains or “Tadart Acaus” on the South Western edge of the Libyan Sahara  (today one of the most arid area of the Sahara) show eloquently  how during the Holocene Sub pluvial this region enjoined a savanna type of ecosystem.

Tadrart Acacus: rock art

Moving a little closer to Lampedusa recent paleo-climatology studies have examined the climate of Sicily between 7000 and 5500 BC concluding that it was more humid than today with higher precipitation rates. For example continuous postglacial records of environmental change have been analyzed from lacustrine sediments of Pergusa Lake and Preola Lake in Sicily confirming the existence of wet climatic conditions during the Holocene Wet Phase lasting  till approximately 5500 BC and followed by a a trend towards aridification commencing around 5000 BC. The lacustrine record from Lago di Pergusa indicates very wet climatic conditions and strong seasonal contrast before 8000 yr ago, when the maximum expansion of arboreal biomass is recorded coinciding with the maximum rate of sea level rise described in our paleo-hydrography section.Petrographic and geochemical data from a Sicilian Holocene stalagmite from Grotta di Carburangeli, located near the archaeological site of Grotta dell'Uzzo confirms the start of a hydrologically unstable period from 5500 BC to 4500 BC marking the transition from a pluvial early Holocene to the present arid climate. Gradual Neolithization  of Sicily seems to have occurred during the transition from the early Holocene pluvial phase to the present-day climate: the stratigraphy recovered from Grotta dell'Uzzo shows traces of transition between Mesolithic and Neolithic between 6200 and 5700 BC and neolithization  appearing approximately around 5,700 BC or right at the end of the wet early Holocene. According to Sebastiano Tusa** indigenous hunter-gatherers with a strong Mesolithic tradition gradually adopted/absorbed certain elements of the Neolithic culture, which improved their lifestyle.

Lake Preola level record (courtesy of Michel Magny et al)*

Another interesting comparison to gain inside of the paleo-climatology of Lampedusa is the analysis of the stratigraphy inside Capsian archeological sites of Tunisia: the Capsian was a late-Mesolithic early-Neolithic culture of the Maghreb, which lasted from about 10,000 to 6,000 BCE. It was concentrated mainly in modern Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. Radiocarbon analyses and field work by Professor David Lubell^ about changes in faunal and lithic assemblages at Kef Zoura D and Aïn Misteheyia Capsian sites demonstrate a close relationship between environmental and cultural changes centered around the 6200 BC with earlier deposits at both sites characterized by larger invertebrate and vertebrate fauna indicative of wetter conditions associated with lithic assemblages that can be described as Typical Capsian. Later deposits contain smaller fauna indicative of increased aridity and lithics characteristic of the Upper Capsian Culture (more advanced). There is evidence for continuity between the Typical and Upper Capsian, as appears to be the case throughout the Maghreb.
Environmental and climatic changes from a humid to a more arid phase have the same chronological horizon with an important transition in the society, economy and technology of cultures in Sicily, Tunisia and Libia and we can therefore expect that similar changes may have happened in Lampedusa around the same period. We can imagine a “Green Lampedusa phase” with an humid and wet climate and  a rapidly rising sea level which lasted two millennia up to approximately 5500 BC when the sea level rise rate declined and the climate became more arid. It was probably during that transition phase that the Neolitization of Lampedusa took place: we must remember here that a neolithic hut  was excavated in 1973 on the Island of Lampedusa yielding several Stentinellian pottery shreds and obsidian: it was situated in "Cala Pisana".

July 2011 copyright by Diego Ratti

*“Holocene Paleohydrological changes in the Central Mediterranean as reflected by Lake-level fluctations” Magny, Vannière, Peyron, Millet, March 2011, University of Franche-Comtè Besancon FR
^Early and Middle Holocene environments and Capsian cultural change: evidence from Tèlidjene Basin,  Eastern Algeria” Mary JAckes and David Lubell, University of Waterloo Canada
**“La Sicilia nella Preistoria” by Sebastiano Tusa 1999, Sellerio Ed.
"Capsian Culture", Cramond and Lepenski, Books LLC Usa, 2010
"Total Prehistoric edible land snails in the circum Mediterranean: the archaeological evidence", David Lubell, Editions APDCA, Antibes 2004
"Post-Capsian occupation in the Eastern Maghreb: implications of a revised chronological assessment for the adult burial of Ain Misteheya", David Lubell, Journal of African Archaeology, Frankfurt, 2009
"The Holocene Occupation of the Eastern Sahara: regional Chronologies and Supra-regional Developments in four Areas of the Absolute Desert", Gehlen, Kindermann, Linstadter and Riemen
“Holocene climate variability in Sicily from a discontinuous stalagmite record and the Mesolithic to Neolithic Transition”, Frisia, Borsato, Mangini, Spotl, Sauro. Quaternary Research July 2006
“Holocene Climatic Change and Human Settlement Between the Cental Sahara and the Nile Valley. Archaeological  and Geomorphological Results” Bubenzer, Riemer African Department Univerity of Koln, 2007 Wiley
“Ancient Agricolture in Lybia: a review of the evidence” Marijke van der Veen , 1995 University of Leicester UK
“Environmental change and archaeology: lake evolution and human occupation in the Eastern Sahara during the Holocene” Hoelzmann, Keding, Berke, Kropelin, Kruse, December 2000 Palaeo Elsevier.
“Tracce di un insediamento neolitico nell’ isola di Lampedusa” G. Radi, 1973 in Atti della Società Toscana di Scienze Naturali- Serie A - pp 197-205