Scientists have charted the submerged landscape around the islands, revealing how the archipelago would have looked like 20,000 years ago.
During the last Ice Age, the sea level in the Mediterranean was 130 metres lower than today and Malta, Gozo, Comino and even Filfla were connected.
The archipelago was two-and-a-half times larger than today and Dingli cliffs towered 380 metres above sea level. Valletta was 10 kilometres inshore.
These details emerged from a study carried out by marine geologist Aaron Micallef, from the University of Malta, and forms part of Mapscape project, which is a collaboration between a series of Italian universities and research institutions with the Maltese University.
About 20,000 years ago, the coastline from Marsalforn to Pembroke consisted of steep coastal cliffs incised by more than 20 valleys. Numerous limestone plateaus had collapsed caves and landslides along their margins. A 40-kilometre-wide land bridge connected southeast Malta all the way to the south of Sicily.
Since then the rise in sea level has drowned more than 450 square kilometres of this landscape, meaning that the largest part is under water.
By surveying the seabed with state-of-the-art mapping technology, the international team of geologists reconstructed most of this submerged landscape in great detail and the results will be published in Marine Geology, an international journal that specialises in the field.
The findings are important for several reasons, according to Dr Micallef. Submerged caves and valleys could provide ideal sites for preserving evidence of prehistoric human occupation or animal activity. Further investigations may shed light on the origin of Maltese megalithic society and animal migration routes to sites such as Għar Dalam.
Underwater landscapes also contain archives of past changes in climate and sea level and their study will be crucial for predicting future climate change and its impact on the islands.
It also identifies which areas of Maltese coastal waters constitute a hazard to seafloor infrastructure, require protection from human activities or provide attractions to divers, contributing valuable information to marine spatial planners.
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