Geomorphological data indicates that the relative stability of sea-level of the past 6000 years was preceded by 12000 years of rapid sea-level rise. A number of archaeologists have argued that the modern, resource-rich coastal environment did not form until the sea-level stabilized. They interpret their archaeological evidence in terms of an "enrichment" of the coastal environment after 6000 B.P .. Beaton has suggested that the occupation of the coast around Australia reflects a pan-continental process related to this enrichment.
In this thesis I examine the potential of sea-level stabilization to offer a general explanatory principle for mid to late Holocene changes in the archaeological change. I isolate the basic features of the sea-level stabilization arguments, then use ecological and geomorphological material to assess the effect of sea-level stabilization on the coastal environment. I argue that while sea-level stabilization affected the coastal environment, the effects were complex and variable between regions. I argue that there was no general enrichment from sea-level stabilization, although the food base may have changed in specific regions.
I examine Princess Charlotte Bay as a case study, where I develop an environmental history by drawing on material in chapter three. The changes in the archaeological record at Princess Charlotte Bay do not correlate with changes in the environment. I argue against explaining this with reference to a "time-lag", and suggest that the lack of correlation indicates a lack of direct causal relationship. I argue that sea-level stabilization is only one part of the broader process of coastal evolution. I argue against using correlations between sea-level stabilization and changes in the archaeological record as indicating causal relations. Instead, I propose that sea-level stabilization should be used in explaining changes in the environment rather than changes in the archaeological record. The environmental change should be recognised as complex rather than involving a simple "enrichment" of the coastal environment.
I conclude that sea-level stabilization does not offer archaeology a general explanatory principle. Nor does it in itself explain changes in the archaeological record in the regions examined. It does, however, provide critical contextual data for analysing coastal archaeology.