Opening the Woods: Towards a Quantification of Neolithic Clearance Around the Somerset Levels and Moors

Michelle Farrell, M. Jane Bunting, Fraser Sturt, Michael J. Grant, Gerard Aalbersberg, Rob Batchelor, Alex Brown, Denise Druce, Tom Hill, Arthur Hollinrake, Julie Jones, Heather Tinsley, Alex Bayliss, Peter Marshall, Suzi Richer, Alasdair Whittle

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Abstract

Environmental reconstructions from pollen records collected within archaeological landscapes have traditionally taken a broadly narrative approach, with few attempts made at hypothesis testing or formal assessment of uncertainty. This disjuncture between the traditional interpretive approach to palynological data and the requirement for detailed, locally specific reconstructions of the landscapes in which people lived has arguably hindered closer integration of palaeoecological and archaeological datasets in recent decades. Here we implement a fundamentally different method for reconstructing past land cover from pollen records to the landscapes of and around the Somerset Levels and Moors—the Multiple Scenario Approach (MSA)—to reconstruct land cover for a series of 200-year timeslices covering the period 4200–2000 cal BC. Modelling of both archaeological and sediment chronologies enables the integration of reconstructed changes in land cover with archaeological evidence of contemporary Neolithic human activity. The MSA reconstructions are presented as a series of land cover maps and as graphs of quantitative measures of woodland clearance tracked over time. Our reconstructions provide a more nuanced understanding of the scale and timing of Neolithic clearance than has previously been available from narrative-based interpretations of pollen data. While the archaeological record tends to promote a view of long-term continuity in terms of the persistent building of wooden structures in the wetlands, our new interpretation of the palynological data contributes a more dynamic and varying narrative. Our case study demonstrates the potential for further integration of archaeological and palynological datasets, enabling us to get closer to the landscapes in which people lived.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-press)
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Volume(In-press)
Early online date21 Sep 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Sep 2019

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land cover
pollen
archaeological evidence
hypothesis testing
chronology
human activity
wetland
moor
sediment
modeling

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2019, Open Access.
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Keywords

  • Chronological modelling
  • Clearance
  • Land cover
  • Multiple Scenario Approach
  • Neolithic
  • Palynology
  • Somerset Levels and Moors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

Cite this

Opening the Woods: Towards a Quantification of Neolithic Clearance Around the Somerset Levels and Moors. / Farrell, Michelle; Bunting, M. Jane; Sturt, Fraser; Grant, Michael J.; Aalbersberg, Gerard; Batchelor, Rob; Brown, Alex; Druce, Denise; Hill, Tom; Hollinrake, Arthur; Jones, Julie; Tinsley, Heather; Bayliss, Alex; Marshall, Peter; Richer, Suzi; Whittle, Alasdair.

In: Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Vol. (In-press), 21.09.2019, p. (In-press).

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Farrell, M, Bunting, MJ, Sturt, F, Grant, MJ, Aalbersberg, G, Batchelor, R, Brown, A, Druce, D, Hill, T, Hollinrake, A, Jones, J, Tinsley, H, Bayliss, A, Marshall, P, Richer, S & Whittle, A 2019, 'Opening the Woods: Towards a Quantification of Neolithic Clearance Around the Somerset Levels and Moors' Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. (In-press), pp. (In-press). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-019-09427-9
Farrell, Michelle ; Bunting, M. Jane ; Sturt, Fraser ; Grant, Michael J. ; Aalbersberg, Gerard ; Batchelor, Rob ; Brown, Alex ; Druce, Denise ; Hill, Tom ; Hollinrake, Arthur ; Jones, Julie ; Tinsley, Heather ; Bayliss, Alex ; Marshall, Peter ; Richer, Suzi ; Whittle, Alasdair. / Opening the Woods: Towards a Quantification of Neolithic Clearance Around the Somerset Levels and Moors. In: Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. 2019 ; Vol. (In-press). pp. (In-press).
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