A multi-proxy study of a Holocene sediment core (RF 93-30) from the western flank of the central Adriatic, in 77 m of water, reveals a sequence of changes in terrestrial vegetation, terrigenous sediment input and benthic fauna, as well as evidence for variations in sea surface temperature spanning most of the last 7000 yr. The chronology of sedimentation is based on several lines of evidence, including AMS ¹⁴C dates of foraminifera extracted from the core, palaeomagnetic secular variation, pollen indicators and dated tephra. The temporal resolution increases towards the surface and, for some of the properties measured, is sub-decadal for the last few centuries. The main changes recorded in vegetation, sedimentation and benthic foraminiferal assemblages appear to be directly related to human activity in the sediment source area, which includes the Po valley and the eastern flanks of the central and northern Appenines. The most striking episodes of deforestation and expanding human impact begin around 3600 BP (Late Bronze Age) and 700 BP (Medieval) and each leads to an acceleration in mass sedimentation and an increase in the proportion of terrigenous material, reflecting the response of surface processes to widespread forest clearance and cultivation. Although human impact appears to be the proximal cause of these changes, climatic effects may also have been important. During these periods, signs of stress are detectable in the benthic foram morphotype assemblages. Between these two periods of increased terrigeneous sedimentation there is smaller peak in sedimentation rate around 2400BP which is not associated with evidence for deforestation, shifts in the balance between terrigenous and authigenic sedimentation, or changes in benthic foraminifera. The mineral magnetic record provides a sensitive indicator of changing sediment sources: during forested periods of reduced terrigenous input it is dominated by authigenic bacterial magnetite, whereas during periods of increased erosion, anti-ferromagetic minerals (haematite and/or goethite) become more important, as well as both paramagnetic minerals and super-paramagnetic magnetite. Analysis of the alkenone, U₃₇k', record provides an indication of possible changes in sea surface temperature during the period, but it is premature to place too much reliance on these inferred changes until the indirect effects of past changes in the depth of the halocline and in circulation have been more fully evaluated. The combination of methods used and the results obtained illustrate the potential value of such high resolution near-shore marine sedimentary sequences for recording wide-scale human impact, documenting the effects of this on marine sedimentation and fauna and, potentially, disentangling evidence for human activities from that for past changes in climate.
Quaternary Science Reviews Vol. 22, Issue 2-4, p. 319-342