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Sealed, submerged palaeoenvironmental deposits date the time range for lithic technologies and enable inferences about cultural change – potentially more accurately than radiometric methods. Sea-level rises triggered by global warming reduce available land, and change the availability of flora, fauna, geological resources, rivers and wetlands. Australian archaeological studies on human adaptation to climate change focus mainly on terrestrial sites, coastal intensification and the few archaeological sites that were not inundated.

The South West Arm project at Port Hacking, south of Sydney, looks at the potential for rock shelters to survive inundation and expand the sites available for studying human adaption to climate change.

Site prediction was based on recorded terrestrial rock-shelter landforms at South West Arm. Underwater surveys were conducted by divers who located, photographed and mapped similar formations. No excavation was conducted.

The pre-disturbance survey examined approximately 1800 m of seabed, between water depths of 0 and 9 m, primarily along the eastern shoreline of South West Arm where the seabed emulates the steep slope, with sandstone rock outcrops that form terraces and rock overhangs above water.

Twelve submerged rock overhangs were recorded and confirmed the potential for rock-shelter sites to survive the process of inundation.

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