posted on Oct. 15: Coastal geologist digs archeology puzzles


[img_inline align=”right” src=”” caption=”Eduard Reinhardt”]Every archeologist should have one, to which Eduard Reinhardt's response is a heartfelt groan: “Oh no, not more work.”

The coastal geologist and assistant professor of geology is a rare professional bird.

So rare and so much in demand that he is constantly on the move through different archeological digs in Greece, Oman, Yemen, Turkey, Israel and

In the normal run of things, coastal geologists study sediment, rocks
and fossils and interpret the state of coastlines, particularly their
suitability for man-made construction. As they do so, the coastlines'
history comes into view. Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods: all leave their
signatures and dates in the geological record.

During the last 12 years, international archeologists have been roping
Reinhardt into their work. Archeology is always asking questions about
people and places long since gone. Coastal geology brings up answers that
are otherwise beyond the reach of established archeological techniques.

For example, history has an unhappy habit of losing ancient harbours. They
frequently disappear into the sea as shorelines crumble and environments
change under the impact of a whole array of natural phenomena ranging from
sudden disasters to slow shoreline erosion.

“The sediment gives a more precise date than the harbour architecture,” says Reinhardt. “The layers of sediment are time-sandwiches and the
artifacts contained in the layers tell us when it was laid down on the
seafloor. The character of the sediments themselves tell us how it

Reinhardt offers a ready, biblical example: “King Herod built a harbour at
Caesarea out away from the coastline, thereby significantly altering the
environment. It was huge, the first structure of such magnitude to be seen
in that part of the world. The sediment signature shows us that it suffered
a major destruction from an earthquake around the end of the first century AD, and that a few attempts were made to repair it before it fell into
disuse and finally disappeared from view.”

He can read what an environment used to be like with a geological expertise
that complements the archeologist's set of skills.

“One archeologist misread
the significance of shells he had found,” says Reinhardt. “What he had not
realized was that they were, in fact, mangrove shells that had been brought
inland to be eaten – you could see where they'd been forced open. We were
able to locate the old shoreline some kilometres away from where his
original calculations had placed it.”

Reinhardt is one of five or so pioneers who have brought these special
skills to archeology. In the process, he has adopted archeological
techniques to help him acquire the geological information needed. Geologists
are traditionally dry-land creatures but Reinhardt learned to dive and
excavate underwater, taking core samples and, in the process, bringing up
artifacts as well as sediment.

For Reinhardt, it's a rich exchange: “This is geology with big added value
for me because I continue to learn so much from working with archeologists.
I know I moan at them from time to time for keeping me so busy, but this is
my passion and I wouldn't have it any other way.”