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Deforestation and Human Agency in the North Atlantic Region: Archaeological and Palaeoenvironmental Evidence from the Western Isles of Scotland

  • Rosie R. Bishop (a1) (a2), Mike J. Church (a2), Ian T. Lawson (a3), Katherine H. Roucoux (a3), Charlotte O’Brien (a2), Helen Ranner (a4), Andrew J. Heald (a5) and Catherine E. Flitcroft (a6)...

Abstract

This paper considers the timing and mechanisms of deforestation in the Western Isles of Scotland, focusing in particular on the landscape around the Calanais stone circles, one of the best preserved late Neolithic/early Bronze Age monumental landscapes in north-west Europe. We present new archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence from a soil and peat sequence at the site of Aird Calanais, which spans the main period of use of the Calanais circles. We then draw on a new synthesis of archaeobotanical and palynological evidence from across the Western Isles and a review of comparable data from the wider North Atlantic zone, before assessing the role of early farming communities in clearing the wooded landscapes of the region. Pollen and radiocarbon dating at the site of Aird Calanais reveal that a layer of birch branches, dating to the late Neolithic (2912–2881 cal bc), was contemporaneous with a decline in woodland at the site, as well as with the major phase of Neolithic activity at the Calanais stone circle complex. However, our synthesis of the pollen and plant macrofossil evidence from across the Western Isles suggests that the picture across these islands was altogether more complex: woodlands declined both before, as well as during, the Neolithic and deciduous woodlands remained sufficiently abundant for Neolithic fuel procurement. Finally, we consider the implications of the results for understanding the interactions between first farmers and woodlands in the wider North Atlantic region.

Déforestation et action humaine dans la région de l’Atlantique nord:témoignages archéologiques et paléo-environnementaux des îles ouest de l’Ecosse, de Rosie R. Bishop, Mike J. Church, Ian T. Lawson, Katherine H. Roucoux, Charlotte O’Brien, Helen Ranner, Andrew J. Heald et Catherine E Flitcroft

Cet article examine la séquence temps et les mécanismes de la déforestation dans les îles ouest de l’Ecosse en se concentrant en particulier sur le paysage autour des cercles de pierres de Calanais, l’un des paysages monumentaux du néolithique final/début de l’âge du bronze les mieux préservés du nord-ouest de l’Europe. Nous présentons de nouveaux témoignages archéologiques et paléo-environnementaux d’une séquence de sol et de tourbe du site de Aird Calanais qui couvre la principale période d’utilisation des cercles Calanais Puis nous nous appuyons sur une nouvelle synthèse de témoignages archéo-botaniques et palynologiques de l’ensemble des îles occidentales et une revue de données comparables de la zone plus étendue de l’Atlantique nord avant d’évaluer le rôle des premières communautés d’agriculteurs dans le défrichement des paysages boisés de la région. Le pollen et des datations au C14 sur le site de Aird Calanais révèlent qu’une couche de branches de bouleaux, datant du néolithique final (2912–2881 cal av.J.-C.),.était contemporaine d’un déclin de la forêt sur le site ainsi que d’une phase majeure d’activité néolithique sur le complexe de cercles de pierre de Calanais. Cependant notre synthèse des témoignages de pollen et de macrofossiles de plantes de l’ensemble des îles occidentales indique que le tableau à travers toutes ces îles était en fait bien plus complexe:la forêt avait décliné à la fois avant, aussi bien que pendant, le néolithique et les bois de feuillus demeuraient suffisamment abondants pour fournir du conbustile. Finalement, nous examinons les implications de ces résultats pour la compréhension des interactions entre premiers agriculteurs et forêt dans le cadre de la région plus étendue de l’Atlantique nord.

Entwaldung und menschliches Handeln in der Nordatlantikregion: Archäologische Daten und Paläoumweltdaten von den Western Isles Schottlands, von Rosie R. Bishop, Mike J. Church, Ian T. Lawson, Katherine H. Roucoux, Charlotte O’brien, Helen Ranner, Andrew J. Heald und Catherine E Flitcroft

In diesem Beitrag werden Überlegungen angestellt zum Ablauf und den Mechanismen der Entwaldung von Schottlands Western Isles, wobei insbesondere die Landschaft der Steinkreise von Calanais in den Blick genommen wird, eine der am besten erhaltenen spätneolithischen bis frühbronzezeitlichen Monumentallandschaften in Nordwesteuropa. Wir legen neue archäologische und Paläoumweltdaten aus einer Schichtenfolge von Böden und Torf am Fundplatz Aird Calanais vor, die die Zeit der hauptsächlichen Nutzung der Kreise von Calanais umfasst. Anschließend stellen wir eine neue Synthese archäobotanischer und palynologischer Daten der gesamten Western Isles vor sowie eine Übersicht über vergleichbare Daten des weiteren nordatlantischen Gebiets, bevor wir die Rolle der frühen bäuerlichen Gemeinschaften bei der Auflichtung der Waldlandschaften der Region bewerten. Pollen und Radiokarbondatierung am Fundplatz Aird Calanais zeigen, dass eine Schicht von Birkenzweigen, die ins späte Neolithikum datiert (2912–2881 cal bc), zeitgleich mit dem Rückgang der Bewaldung des Ortes wie auch mit der wichtigsten Phase der neolithischen Nutzung des Komplexes der Steinkreise von Calanais war. Unsere Synthese der Pollen und der pflanzlichen Makroreste von den gesamten Western Isles legt jedoch nahe, dass das Bild in der Inselregion insgesamt deutlich komplexer war: Wälder gingen sowohl vor als auch während des Neolithikums zurück und laubwechselnde Wälder blieben ausreichend ergiebig für die Beschaffung von Brennstoff im Neolithikum. Schließlich erörtern wir, welche Konsequenzen diese Ergebnisse für unser Verständnis der Beziehungen zwischen den ersten Bauern und den Wäldern in der weiteren nordatlantischen Region haben.

Deforestación e intervención humana en el norte de la región atlántica: evidencia arqueológica y paleoambiental de las islas Hébridas de Escocia, por Rosie R. Bishop, Mike J. Church, Ian T. Lawson, Katherine H. Roucoux, Charlotte O’brien, Helen Ranner, Andrew J. Heald y Catherine E Flitcroft

En este artículo se consideran la cronología y los mecanismos de deforestación en las islas occidentales de Escocia, centrándose en particular en el paisaje alrededor de los círculos de piedra de Calanais, uno de los paisajes monumentales mejor preservados del Neolítico Final/Bronce Inicial del noroeste de Europa. Se presenta nueva evidencia arqueológica y paleoambiental de una secuencia de suelo y turbera del yacimiento de Aird Calanais, que comprende el principal período de uso de los círculos de Calanais. A partir de esto, y antes de evaluar el papel de las primeras comunidades agrícolas en la limpieza de los paisajes arbolados de la región, se propone una nueva síntesis de la evidencia arqueobotánica y palinológica de las Islas y se revisan los datos comparables a una escala más amplia de la zona del Atlántico Norte. El polen y las dataciones radiocarbónicas del yacimiento de Aird Calanais revelan que un estrato de ramas de abedul, datado en el Neolítico final (2912–2881 cal bc) fue coetáneo al declive del bosque y a la fase principal de actividad neolítica en el círculo de piedra de Calanais. Sin embargo, nuestra síntesis del polen y de la evidencia macrofósil de plantas a lo largo de las islas sugiere un panorama más complejo: el declive del bosque se produce tanto antes como durante el Neolítico y los bosques de hoja caduca siguen siendo suficientemente abundantes para la obtención de combustible durante el Neolítico. Finalmente, se consideran las implicaciones de estos resultados en nuestra comprensión sobre las interacciones entre los primeros agricultores y los bosques en la amplia región del Atlántico Norte.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Corresponding author: Rosie Bishop Email: rosie.bishop@ucd.ie.

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Deforestation and Human Agency in the North Atlantic Region: Archaeological and Palaeoenvironmental Evidence from the Western Isles of Scotland

  • Rosie R. Bishop (a1) (a2), Mike J. Church (a2), Ian T. Lawson (a3), Katherine H. Roucoux (a3), Charlotte O’Brien (a2), Helen Ranner (a4), Andrew J. Heald (a5) and Catherine E. Flitcroft (a6)...

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