The concept of a single "25 foot raised beach" has dominated
opinion on the relationship between Scottish archaeological material and sea
level change for most of the present century. Recent work has however
demonstrated that Holocene coastal changes were much more complicated than this
These complexities have not yet been fully resolved, either in
Scotland or elsewhere. Doubt exists as to how far sequences of changes observed
in one area are likely also to be represented on other stretches of coastline.
At present, Scottish geomorphological and archaeological evidence does not in
itself appear adequate for a reliable evaluation of this.
The seaboard of Western Europe between north Norway and Biscay
contains a substantially wider range of Holocene land movement regimes and
coastal environments than is represented in Scotland, and thus offers a basis
for assessing the relative importance of ocean level variations and more local
The evaluation of this type of interplay and the isolation of
the eustatic(ocean wide) component has long been a matter of controversy in the
literature. During the past decade, however, almost a thousand radiocarbon
dates relevant to Holocene coastal changes have become available in Western
Europe. These permitted the development of a new type of approach to the problem,
based on a detailed analysis of the timing of episodes of transgression and
From this it became apparent that despite the diversity of
conditions on the European seaboard, the ubiquitous influence of ocean level
variations had dominated the timing of shoreline changes throughout the Holocene.
The only major exception was the Baltic, when cut off from the ocean during
periods such as the "Ancylus Lake" stage, but it proved possible to define these
phases closely in terms of C¹⁴ chronology.
None of the published Holocene eustatic curves appears to be based
on more than about 10% of the number of radiocarbon dates included in the present
survey. Accordingly, a new curve taking these dates into account was derived.
The eustatic and other data from the survey were then compared
with the Scottish evidence, using detailed information now available for the
Forth-Tay area as a control. It was found that the Scottish data could be interpreted
. in a way consistent with the results from the remainder of Western Europe.
A model of relative sea level change was constructed, and discussed in terms of
the available archaeological material.
It was concluded that although necessarily provisional, this
model appeared to offer a hypothesis for future investigation that seemed
potentially more profitable than that provided by the "25 foot raised beach"