Excerpt from The Conversation

The legend of Lyonesse predates even King Arthur. It was the land of Tristan (who famously loved Iseult), son of noble King Rivalin, whose adventures were chronicled by Thomas of Britain, over 800 years ago. Now underwater, it is rumoured that fragments of masonry from Lyonesse litter the hauls of Cornish fishermen today:

Back to the sunset bound of Lyonesse –
A land of old upheaven from the abyss
By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwealt …

Idylls of the King, Alfred Lord Tennyson (1859)

Back then, like now, the coastlines were being submerged by rising seas. If the poets are to be believed, this submergence was in the forefront of people’s minds.

Yet the story of rising sea levels in south-west Britain, and of the prehistoric island communities that it affected, starts many millennia before the legends of Tristan and Arthur. Our newly published research sheds new light on the history of this corner of Britain and could explain how the legendary land of Lyonesse was lost to the seas. This research, which we carried out with an international team, used environmental data to reconstruct past sea levels and the wider landscape and archaeological data to explore the response of the island population to rising seas.

The findings from our research provide a stark (and timely) reminder of the effects sea-level rise can have on coastlines and communities. Importantly, we show that response plans must be designed with both local environments and local cultures in mind.

A view from Bryher, Isles of Scilly, today. Annie Spratt/UnsplashFAL

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