Environmental Change and Human Impact during the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition in North-West Europe

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Sarah Kneen

Abstract

The aim of this thesis is to investigate the environmental changes across the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition (c.7000-5000 cal BP) at two sites in north-west Europe. Specific research questions focus on the role of fire, the interaction of climate and environmental change and human impacts, and the degree of continuity across the transition. Previous work has led to hypotheses of human impacts in the late Mesolithic, usually through the use of fire, increasing the abundance of food. Detection of these practices and the change to farming in the Neolithic has long been the study of pollen analysts, but in this project additional techniques of NPPs, size-class differentiated charcoal, and silicon and titanium were added at high resolution in order to determine the relationships between the different forcing factors on mid-Holocene environments. Sites were selected close to locations where known later Mesolithic artefacts have been found, with dated archaeological excavations. An upland UK bog site (Dan Clough Moss, near March Hill, West Yorkshire) and a lowland Swedish lake (Bökeberg, Skåne) provided contrasting environments, and enabled a range of proxies to be used from terrestrial peat and limnic sediments. 14C dates from selected macrofossils enabled an age-depth curve to be produced from each profile, with a Bayesian model applied to estimate the age of each sample. Results show a detailed record of woodland change from both areas. At Dan Clough Moss, disturbance phases with evidence of local fires occur frequently (typically every 20-30 years) in the late Mesolithic, and have low magnitude but consistent records of coprophilous fungi. Some phases of disturbance are different however, without the fungal spore evidence, and with heath plants increasing in representation. Drier phases appear to correlate with more local fire, and increased hazel. The transition is marked by a change to longer duration but distant fires, and longer periods of woodland disturbance, increased ruderal species and more heathland. The dates of occupation phases show a late survival of Mesolithic practices, overlapping with the Neolithic by around 300 years. At Bökeberg, a contrasting pattern is shown, with longer-duration phases of inferred human impact being replaced by shorter episodes of fire-associated disturbance after the date of the transition. Pollen and spore zones of disturbance concur with the dated occupation of late Mesolithic sites at the former lake edge. There is some evidence for markedly wetter, and then significantly drier, climate through the transition, and it could be inferred that this influenced the change in food production economies. However, the overall landscape changed only subtly, with more evidence of potential weeds of cultivation. At Bökeberg, there was no overlap- both radiocarbon and palynology suggest an abrupt transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic. The landscape impact of the transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic at both sites was not a clear and consistent one. While Ulmus decline levels and thereafter had increases in weed species and other herbs the overall balance of trees and shrubs changed less than 20%. At both sites, climate may have been influential, although the evidence is inconclusive. Fires were important at both sites and in both periods, but at different scales and duration. Disturbance phases varied within the Mesolithic as well as between the Mesolithic and the Neolithic.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2015