Research highlight

Weathering abrupt climate change in Mesolithic Britain

Nature Ecology & Evolution

March 27, 2018

Mesolithic hunter-gatherers survived multiple abrupt and severe climatic events over just a few centuries in early Holocene Britain, around 11,000 years ago, reports a paper published online this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution. These findings add to our understanding of the earliest post-glacial colonization of Europe, and show that humans were able to endure abrupt climate change.

Simon Blockley and colleagues studied lake deposits adjacent to Star Carr, a Mesolithic archaeological site in North Yorkshire, UK, which is known for its exceptional preservation of wetland hunter-gatherer activity. The authors constructed a record of past environments based on studies of fossilized plants and animals and stable isotope ratios, and on timings from radiocarbon dating and ash from distant volcanic eruptions. The authors correlated this record with new radiocarbon dating and archaeological data taken directly from Star Carr. Together, these high-resolution records allowed climatic events to be matched with the human activity at this site for the first time.

When the site was occupied, humans worked wood and animal material (including red deer antler headdresses, thought to have been used in ritual activity), raised wooden structures thought to be houses, and built timber platforms along the wetlands at the lake edge. The authors found that during this time there were two abrupt climatic events, spanning only a century each. During these events, temperatures dropped by 10 and 4 degrees Celsius respectively, with knock-on effects to local woodland growth. Despite this climatic instability, the site occupants maintained their way of life, assisted by rich environmental resources locally available as well as their cultural adaptations.

doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0508-4

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