Extreme wet conditions coincident with Bronze Age abandonment of upland areas in Britain

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Journal Article
Anthropocene, 2016, 13, pp. 69-79
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Abandonment of farming systems on upland areas in southwest Britain during the Late Bronze Age – some 3000 years ago – is widely considered a ‘classic’ demonstration of the impact of deteriorating climate on the vulnerability of populations in such marginal environments. Here we test the hypothesis that climate change drove the abandonment of upland areas by developing new chronologies for human activity on upland areas during the Bronze Age across southwest Britain (Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor). We find Bronze Age activity in these areas spanned 3900–2950 calendar years ago with abandonment by 2900 calendar years ago. Holocene Irish bog and lake oak tree populations provide evidence of major shifts in hydroclimate across western Britain and Ireland, coincident with ice rafted debris layers recognized in North Atlantic marine sediments, indicating significant changes in the latitude and intensity of zonal atmospheric circulation across the region. We observe abandonment of upland areas in southwest Britain coinciding with a sustained period of extreme wet conditions that commenced 3100 calendar years ago. Our results are consistent with the view that climate change increased the vulnerability of these early farming communities and led to a less intensive use of such marginal environments across Britain.
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