Forster, Emily Elizabeth
Palaeoecology of human impact in northwest England during the early medieval period: investigating ‘cultural decline’ in the Dark Ages.
University of Southampton, Geography,
The period following the Roman withdrawal from England in AD 410 has long been considered a time of ‘cultural decline’, owing to the relative paucity of archaeological evidence relating to this time and the dismal state of affairs described by the Dark Age historians Gildas (c AD 540) and Bede (AD 731). Traditionally this period has been viewed as a time of chaos in which farmland was abandoned and the population declined, leading to woodland regeneration in many areas. In Northwest England, archaeological remains for the early medieval period (c AD 410-1066) are sparse. Early palynological studies in Cumbria, for which radiocarbon dates were often lacking or imprecise, frequently assigned major ‘woodland clearances’ to the Romano-British period, woodland regeneration phases to the early Dark Ages, ‘subdued’ agriculture to Anglo-Saxon farmers and pastoral clearances to the actions of Norse settlers.
The overarching aim of this study has been to question the validity of the above interpretations through analysis of pollen and diatom records from six tarns within the English Lake District. Of the sites investigated, both Loughrigg and Barfield Tarns produced good records for the study period. The pollen curves for Loughrigg Tarn appear to support the traditional interpretation of woodland regeneration in the early post-Romano-British period, while at Barfield Tarn the pollen indicates a largely open landscape with limited evidence for agriculture. Drawing together the data from these sites with the small body of extant palaeoecological research relating to this period, it is clear that the timing and nature of land-use varied across the region. This highlights the importance of localised pollen studies, particularly as regards the relationship between vegetation records and archaeological remains. Pollen-vegetation simulation experiments using HUMPOL (Bunting & Middleton, 2005) were a useful aid to interpretation, raising important questions regarding ‘woodland regeneration’ signals in pollen diagrams
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