Maps from Mud - using the Multiple Scenario Approach to reconstruct land cover dynamics from pollen records: A case study of two Neolithic landscapes

M. Jane Bunting, Michelle Farrell, Alex Bayliss, Peter Marshall, Alasdair Whittle

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Pollen records contain a wide range of information about past land cover, but translation from the pollen diagram to other formats remains a challenge. In this paper, we present LandPolFlow, a software package enabling Multiple Scenario Approach (MSA) based land cover reconstruction from pollen records for specific landscapes. It has two components: a basic Geographic Information System which takes grids of landscape constraints (e.g., topography, geology) and generates possible “scenarios” of past land cover using a combination of probabilistic and deterministic placement rules to distribute defined plant communities within the landscape, and a pollen dispersal and deposition model which simulates pollen loading at specified points within each scenario and compares that statistically with actual pollen assemblages from the same location. Goodness of fit statistics from multiple pollen site locations are used to identify which scenarios are likely reconstructions of past land cover. We apply this approach to two case studies of Neolithisation in Britain, the first from the Somerset Levels and Moors and the second from Mainland, Orkney. Both landscapes contain significant evidence of Neolithic activity, but present contrasting contexts. In Somerset, wet-preserved Neolithic remains such as trackways are abundant, but little dry land settlement archaeology is known, and the pre-Neolithic landscape was extensively wooded. In Orkney, the Neolithic archaeology includes domestic and monumental stone-built structures forming a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the pre-Neolithic landscape was largely treeless. Existing pollen records were collated from both landscapes and correlated within new chronological frameworks (presented elsewhere). This allowed pollen data to be grouped into 200 year periods, or “timeslices,” for reconstruction of land cover through time using the MSA. Reconstruction suggests that subtle but clear and persistent impacts of Neolithisation on land cover occurred in both landscapes, with no reduction in impact during periods when archaeological records suggest lower activity levels. By applying the methodology to specific landscapes, we critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses and identify potential remedies, which we then expand into consideration of how simulation can be incorporated into palynological research practice. We argue that the MSA deserves a place within the palynologist's standard tool kit.
Original languageEnglish
Article number36
Number of pages20
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 13 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2018 Bunting, Farrell, Bayliss, Marshall and Whittle. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted,
provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply
with these terms.


  • archaeology
  • vegetation reconstruction
  • pollen analysis
  • pollen dispersal and deposition modelling
  • palynology
  • paleoecology
  • Neolithic


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