STANLEY, J.-D. and BERNHARDT, C.E., 2010. Alexandria's Eastern Harbor, Egypt: Pollen, microscopic charcoal, and the transition from natural to human-modified basin.
Pollen and microscopic charcoal examined in Holocene sediment core samples record major environmental modifications affecting Alexandria's Eastern Harbor through time. We assess whether such changes on Egypt's coastal margin were influenced primarily by natural, or natural plus human, or primarily human factors. We focus on (1) the times when pollen assemblages and microscopic charcoal content changed in the core, (2) how they changed, and (3) why this occurred. The analysis takes into account the core's stratigraphy, regional climate variability, human history, and local archaeological record.
Four pollen–microscopic charcoal zones are identified. The earliest change occurred at ca. 6000 YBP, during Egypt's earlier Predynastic (Neolithic) period, coinciding with a lithologic break from sand to muddy sand. Pollen during this time indicates a transition to a much drier climate rather than effects of human activity. The second change in pollen occurred 3600–2900 YBP, during a period of continued aridity with no lithologic variation in this core interval. Pollen (cereal taxa, agricultural weeds, grape) and a sharp increase in microscopic charcoal indicate that human activity became prevalent at least 700 y before Alexander the Great's arrival in this region, and these results highlight the transition from a largely natural climate–controlled environment to one influenced by both climate and anthropogenic activity. The third shift up-core in pollen assemblages is dated at ca. 2300 YBP, at the boundary between a sand and mud unit. It coincides with construction by the Ptolemies of the Heptastadion between Alexandria and Pharos Island. From this time onward, harbor sediment in the nearly enclosed catchment basin indicates a near-continuous record of dominant proximal human activity.