The main goal of the SPHeritage project is to understand the response of Paleolithic human populations to sea level changes. To do this, numerous activities are underway within the project, divided into various areas.



 In the Balzi Rossi complex the last three, or possibly four, interglacial periods are geologically documented, with at least 3 past coastlines located at distinct altitudes. The precise identification and dating of the coastlines of the past is one of the objectives of the research, which in addition to the Balzi Rossi area takes into consideration other coastal sites in the Ligurian-Provençal area.


Review of previous works on the Balzi Rossi and the Ligurian-Provençal coast.
A database of sea level and shoreline changes along the coast of Liguria and Provence during the last 400,000 years is being created. The scientific literature on the evidence of coastline variations in the Pleistocene has been critically reviewed also examining the gray and minor literature, a source of valuable information on stratigraphic sequences now completely destroyed.


Elevation measurement of sea level markers.
A list of evidence of past sea levels has been compiled, including their geographic location and elevation/depth. To this will be added a new geochronological framework for these variations, based on radiometric techniques and with the method of racemization of amino acids, applied on selected samples. This database will be made available to the entire scientific community.A digital LIDAR/photogrammetric model (DEM) was also created for the portion of the emerged coast. It has been integrated with a multibeam bathymetric survey extending to a depth of 120 m. The geomorphological and bathymetric surveys, combined with data on sea level variations, will allow us to reconstruct the changes in the paleogeography of the area during the last 400,000 years.





Most of the marine sediments that were present at the Balzi Rossi site were removed during the main excavation phases that took place in the past, and today these marine sediments are preserved in situ only in scattered outcrops. However, there are extensive faunal catalogues, differentiated by stratigraphic unit, compiled during the main excavation phases of the site, and many samples have been preserved thanks to the cultural heritage protection policies implemented by the Superintendency for Archaeological Heritage of Liguria and by the Museum of Anthropology Prehistoric Munich. The project envisages a paleontological study of the macro and microfauna found in situ or in archaeological deposits and their comparison with control samples and catalogues. Mollusc faunas (malacofaunas) characterized by "warm hosts" have been recognized (e.g. Persististrombus latus, a gastropod mollusc of the family Strombidae, similar in morphology to the current murex) so far referred to MIS5e in the Mediterranean. In the future, mollusc faunas relating to other interglacials will also be investigated, and the analysis of stable isotopes on mollusc shells will be able to provide fundamental data on these malacofaunas to evaluate their environmental evolution.





Inside the Balzi Rossi caves there is an extraordinary testimony of the settlement of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens whose study can provide information on the human population at the end of the last interglacial phase. The complete burials of Homo sapiens, very important at an international level, date back to the last glaciation, when the coastline was far back towards the sea and in those same sediments there are levels of marine shells for ornamental and/or food purposes. Studies on the stratigraphic sequence that returned a female bone find attributed in the past to Homo heidelbergensis will help verify the age of the find and define the environmental context in which the individual to which it belonged lived. In order to reconstruct the processes and the formation of the archaeological deposits inside the caves of the Balzi Rossi complex, an accurate bibliographic investigation was carried out to trace the original stratigraphy of the site and the history of the excavations carried out in the area over the years.




New geoarchaeological investigations
Numerous geological samples of sediments were taken, with micro-invasive techniques, to be subjected to laboratory analyses. The study of the sediments under the microscope will make it possible to clarify which processes were responsible for the formation of the archaeological record, as well as to understand the climatic-environmental variations that occurred in the Pleistocene and to reconstruct how the space inside the caves was used, for example by identifying the areas intended for lighting fires. Crucial support to the study will be given by radiometric (radiocarbon and U/Th), optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and magnetostratigraphic datings, which will make it possible to reconstruct the times when human presence in the area took place and the moments when the main climate changes. Activities are also underway aimed at collecting new archaeological and geological evidence by investigating the currently submerged portion of the Balzi Rossi cliff and the plain that developed in front of it up to an extension of about ten km to reach the coastline. These palaeoenvironmental reconstructions are carried out through dedicated bathymetric and geophysical surveys and coring within the sediments of the continental shelf.