Palaeoenvironmental investigations of Holocene landscapes in the North Tyne basin, northern England
The vegetation history of the North Tyne basin, northern England, is presented for an extended Holocene period, dating back to ca. 8000 cal. BC. This study focuses upon vegetation histories from two types of site, which record changes at differing spatial scales. The regional vegetation of the area is recorded within three radiocarbon-dated pollen diagrams from upland sites at Drowning Flow, Bloody Moss and Sells Bum. These sites provide a different perspective of regional vegetation history in comparison to existing published accounts from the region. This work also fills a spatial gap in current knowledge, by providing records from the area between Hadrian's Wall in the south and the Cheviots to the north for which only one previous site exists (Steng Moss: Davies and Turner, 1979). These regional records are complemented by the reconstruction of local, valley floor vegetation derived from organic-rich palaeochannel fills at Brownchesters Farm, Redesdale and Snabdaugh Farm, North Tynedale. These sites demonstrate how patterns of vegetation at local scales can provide valuable additional insights into former landscapes, valley floor land-use and human activity. Perceived problems of the usage of alluvial sediments for palynological investigation are discussed, while methodologies to overcome these difficulties are developed and the potential benefits of these contexts for vegetation reconstruction outlined. The unusually long and readily dateable alluvial record has also facilitated a new perspective on the timing and controls of Holocene fluvial activity in the North Tyne basin. The close integration of archaeological evidence with the results from this study has contributed to a number of debates concerning former human activity in the area. Palynological results suggest that the impact of Mesolithic and Neolithic societies upon the landscape has been underestimated; that postulated alterations in upland / lowland settlement patterns during the Bronze Age are a consequence of a fragmentary archaeological record rather than a response to changing environmental conditions; that Iron Age (and earlier) agricultural activity has been underestimated and that forest clearance was a gradual phenomenon with its origins in the Late Mesolithic and not primarily a result of activity associated with invading Roman forces.