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Title: Late Holocene vegetation change, climate deterioration and human response in the Strath of Kildonan, Sutherland, Scotland : an investigation into the theory of settlement discontinuity during the later Bronze Age
Author: Gillie, Darcey Francis
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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Using complementary methods of palaeoecological reconstruction (pollen, microscopic charcoal, organic content, peat humification and tephrochronology) integrated with a critical and contrastive re-evaluation of archaeological data, this PhD project is the first to test the hypothesis that marginal, upland settlements were abandoned because of 'catastrophic' climatic or environmental changes during the Later Bronze Age (ca. 1200 BC). The Strath of Kildonan possesses a remarkably rich and well preserved record of multi-period settlement and land-use situated in an area, currently and historically, perceived as culturally, economically and environmentally 'marginal'. Previous archaeological work has been used to support the abandonment hypothesis, making it an ideal location for reconstructing associated palaeoclimatic and vegetation changes from 'off-site' environmental contexts. There are no extant palaeoclimatic reconstructions and existing pollen work is of low spatial/temporal resolution. Three deep peat sites were selected for their relationship to archaeological sites which reflect a gradient of increasing ecological 'marginality', thus sensitivity to climate change. Palaeohydrological reconstructions reveal a highly variable Late Holocene climate with regional shifts recorded ca. 4,360-4,090 cal BP (ca. 2410-2140 cal BC); ca. 3,160-2,870 cal BP (ca. 1210-920 cal BC); 2,160-1,940 cal BP (ca. 210 cal BC-cal AD 10); ca. 1,520- 1,350 cal BP (ca. cal AD 430-600). Pollen- and peat-stratigraphic data reflect the continuity of settlement, through the record of land-use, during and after the inferred Late Bronze Age climate deterioration ca. 3,160-2,870 cal BP (ca. 1210-920 cal BC) at the two most marginal sites, Loch Ascaig and Kinbrace Hill. The only significant evidence for abandonment occurs at Loch Ascaig substantially before the palaeohydrological shift ca. 1,520-1,320 cal BP and persists for ca. 200 years. The results of the palaeoenvironmental programme and re-appraisal of the archaeological record in the Strath of Kildonan, northern Scotland, have led to a rejection of a Later Bronze Age 'catastrophe' as a stimulus of land-use change and settlement abandonment. There is no evidence that climatic change or Icelandic volcanic eruptions were detrimental to 'marginal' agricultural settlements in the Strath of Kildonan during the past 4,000 years. The results both challenge environmentally deterministic interpretations and also highlight some of the ways which culture and cultural adjustments provide strategies for coping with times of uncertainty and scarcity. This research has highlighted the importance of examining how settlements and landscapes were inhabited and transformed by the dynamic interaction of human activity, climatic variability and internal environmental processes, not merely identifying the 'if and 'when' of abandonment.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available