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Marine Ecosystems, Animal Resources and Human Strategies in Ancient Mediterranean: Integrated Studies on Natural and Societal Resilience

Project description

Looking to the Mediterranean past to understand the resilience of marine ecosystems today

Historical marine ecology has increased our understanding of the state of marine ecosystems in the past, and helped develop policies to tackle their declining health today. The EU-funded MERMAID project aims to uncover how environmental events and human exploitation have impacted marine resources in the Mediterranean past and how ancient societies adapted to changing ecosystems. The project will produce an unprecedented archaeo-fisheries synthesis (M-ARCHIVES) covering several millennia, that will significantly expand the known timeline and help the return to pristine marine conditions. It will also assess the extent of ancient fishing strategies and seek to pinpoint the first environmental impacts of fishing. The results will be valuable for historical syntheses and marine management policies.


Facing today’s radical deterioration of marine ecosystems, marine historical ecology has a pivotal role in measuring the impacts of past environmental and human pressures on marine biodiversity, with the aim of understanding the resilience of socio-ecosystems and proposing a sustainable management of marine resources. Recent studies confirm that human groups begun “fishing down the food web” earlier than previously believed. The Mediterranean, this palimpsest landscape, offers a unique archive of undisrupted sea-harvesting activities and a precious palaeoenvironmental indicator, i.e. the remains of marine organisms from archaeological excavations. Although independent studies have increased our knowledge of how Mediterranean resources were exploited, MERMAID proposes an integrated long-term study to understand: a) how marine resources have been influenced by environmental/human pressures, b) when human impact can first be identified, and c) the ways ancient societies depended on these resources and adapted exploitation strategies. MERMAID will first produce an unprecedented archaeofisheries synthesis (M-ARCHIVES Database) of every available dataset, covering several millennia from the Palaeolithic to the Roman era and Mediterranean biogeographical subdivisions. An unconventional combination of approaches (zooarchaeology, marine biology, isotope analysis, fisheries science, ecological modelling, statistics, input of anthropological, geomorphological and palaeoclimatological data) will then be applied on a critical sample from major spatiotemporal contexts (9,000 specimens from 154 sites) at a multi-scale resolution never envisioned before. The results will be key to reconstruct marine ecosystem states (baselines) through time, provide robust evidence of shifting baselines, and assess the nature and degree of human adaptations to shifting ecosystems. The project aspires to make archaeological data exploitable within historical syntheses and marine management studies.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 915 462,25
75794 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 974 161,00

Beneficiaries (2)