Detailed sedimentological and petrographic analysis of marine Pleistocene deposits along the coastal area of southeastern Tunisia allow to identify two distinct lithostratigraphic units separated by an erosion surface (fig. 2 et 5 A and B). These two commonly superposed units form a ridge parallel to the coast. The palaeocoastal morphology was more irregular than the present-day coastline with areas either more protected or more exposed than now (fig. 3).

The lower unit overlies an erosion surface cutting into Mio-Pliocene and Villafranchian deposits. It consists of fine-grained bioclastic quartz-rich sands (fig. 5 C), locally overlain by thin marl layers containing benthic foraminifera and ostracods. The very fine facies (silts and clays) represent relatively protected areas while the coarser facies developed in the more exposed zones. These deposits locally display a well-developed aeolian facies that terminates the sedimentary sequence. This unit, well developed in Jerba Island and Jorf peninsula, strongly resembles the stratigraphic unit of “Khnis” as defined by Mahmoudi [1988] on the coast of Central Tunisia.

The upper unit is the better developed in the studied area. It consists of carbonate deposits composed mainly by ooids and peloids (fig. 5 D) and contains also a warm Senegalese fauna, especially Strombus. Locally, in the exposed areas, it shows a coarse facies which resulted mainly from the erosion of the calcareous Villafranchian deposits. This unit displays a remarkable shallowing-upward sequence from shoreface to aeolian dunes (fig. 5 E and F). It constitutes the lateral equivalent of the stratigraphic unit of “Réjiche” as defined by Mahmoudi [1988] in Central Tunisia.

These two units, called in this study “quartz-rich unit” (the lower sequence) and “carbonate unit” (the upper one), developed during two distinctive sedimentation phases associated with two sea-level highstands separated by a marine regression. During the first highstand sea-level was about 3 m higher than today whereas it was at about +5 m during the second highstand [Jedoui, 2000].

Along the Mediterranean coasts the Strombus paleobeaches, which are contemporary with the carbonate unit, are well developed and traditionally called Tyrrhenian deposits. Their radiochemical dating, using corals, gives ages of about 125 ka [Hearty et al., 1986 ; Miller et al., 1986 ; Dumas et al., 1991 ; Vai et Pasini, 1996]. We obtained the most reliable uranium/thorium dates in southeastern Tunisia on oyster shells. Results show that the two units developed during the marine isotopic substage 5e [last interglacial ; Jedoui, 2000]. This evidence suggests that substage 5e was characterised by at least two eustatic maxima separated by a lowering of sea level during a marine regression. Our results are therefore in agreement with recent palaeoclimatic reconstructions and in particular with sea level reconstructions and marine oxygen isotope records that indicate the distinct possibility of two positive eustatic pulsations during the last interglacial [Hillaire-Marcel et al., 1996 ; Kindler et al., 1997 ; Plaziat et al., 1998].

Variations in the petrographic content of the two outlined units reflect drastic palaeoclimatic fluctuations in southeastern Tunisia during the last interglacial. The establishment of wetter climatic conditions at the beginning of marine isotopic substage 5e than today was responsible for an enhanced terrigenous materiel supply from the continent as showed by siliciclastic sedimentation along the coast (lower unit). Our data are in agreement with the strong sea surface salinity lowering observed in Mediterranean basins at the beginning of the last interglacial period [Kallel et al., 2000]. The regression of these conditions during the second half of the last interglacial favoured a carbonate sedimentation (upper unit) in southeastern Tunisia.

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