The potential of chironomid (Insecta: Diptera) larvae in archaeological investigations of floodplain and lake settlements

Ruiz, Z., Brown, A.G. and Langdon, P.G. (2006) The potential of chironomid (Insecta: Diptera) larvae in archaeological investigations of floodplain and lake settlements. Journal of Archaeological Science, 33, (1), 14-33. (doi:10.1016/j.jas.2005.05.015).


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The head capsules of chironomids (Insecta: Diptera) are well preserved in sediments and can be recognised to a high taxonomic
level, usually genus and sometimes species. Work on lake sediments has shown that they can be accurate indicators of water
temperature, oxygen regimes, and nutrient status (particularly total phosphorus and chlorophyll-a), as well as heavy metal pollution.
No systematic chironomid analyses, however, have previously been undertaken on archaeological deposits. In order to address this
we assessed the use of chironomids in three types of archaeological deposit; firstly, a lake core at the edge of a lake settlement
(crannog), secondly, a palaeochannel infill adjacent to a multi-period settlement site and lastly, a Roman well deposit from
a floodplain environment. The chironomid assemblages are shown to vary significantly both between and within the sites and reflect
the immediate environment and the adjacent area. The lake sediment assemblage reflects the construction of the crannog through
elevated levels of organic detritus, wood and woody debris. The palaeochannel assemblage reveals changing natural conditions and
nutrient enrichment probably associated with settlement during the Saxon period. The well assemblage is taxonomically restricted
and indicative of organic debris, dead plant material, animal dung and possibly human effluent deposited after abandonment of the
well. Dry storage of the palaeochannel and well sediments for several years did not appear to affect the concentration or state of
preservation of the head capsules. The chironomid reconstructions are shown to provide an additional indicator of human activity
which has the potential to provide quantitative data on the character of aquatic environments associated with archaeological sites.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1016/j.jas.2005.05.015
ISSNs: 0305-4403 (print)
Related URLs:
Keywords: chironomids, crannogs, palaeochannels, well sediments, eutrophication, phosphorus, settlement history
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GB Physical geography
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Geography > Environmental Processes and Change
ePrint ID: 55013
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
January 2006Published
4 August 2004Submitted
Date Deposited: 01 Aug 2008
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 12:34

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