Sunday 14 July 2024
 11.7°C   NNE Moderate Breeze
Ocean Kinetics - The Engineering Experts

Community / Can pollen in peat paint picture of Neolithic Shetland?

The research team hard at work extracting peat.

A RESEARCH project is hoping to get a glimpse into what Neolithic Shetland may have looked like by studying pollen found in peat.

The aim is to try to paint a picture of what the environment was like in the Neolithic era thousands of years ago.

PhD student Hazel Mosley from Queen’s University Belfast made the trip to Shetland earlier this month alongside supervisors and another palaeoecologist to take peat samples in Northmavine.

It looks to follow on from work done through the previous North Roe felsite project, which looked at the production of stone tools.

“The earliest dates we have for Neolithic activity in Shetland come from West Voe, around 3700 BC, and within a hundred years of this we know they were up on North Roe mining felsite and making polished axes and Shetland knives,” she said.

“These felsite objects are so characteristic of Neolithic Shetland and we have almost no evidence of them being used elsewhere, but we don’t know very much about what the landscape was like at this time, especially around Northmavine, where the felsite was being mined.

“The current project is aiming to provide an environmental context for the work done by the North Roe Felsite Project, through palaeoecology, which is really just what it sounds like – ecology of the past.

“By identifying the pollen preserved in the peat we can get an idea of what kind of vegetation was present, and infer something about the environmental conditions.

A peat core taken from the ground.

“By looking for fungal spores that grow on animal droppings we can see indications of grazing animals; we can also look for changes that humans have made to the environment – growing cereals, cutting down trees.”

Earlier this month the team located deep peat in Northmavine and used a Russian corer to take samples.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

 

It was safely packaged up for its trip back to Belfast.

The priority now is to date the start of the peat formation, which will be done through radiocarbon dating – and only then will the researches know if they have been successful in tracking down Neolithic pollen.

“At the moment Shetland is famously short of trees but there is evidence that during the Neolithic, in some places at least, there were patches of woodland,” Mosley added.

“The landscape of Northmavine is today quite different from more low-lying areas of Shetland; as this is partly due to the unique geology, the elevation and the exposure it is likely that during the Neolithic it was also quite open, but summer temperatures, at least in in early Neolithic, were a little warmer than today.

“Were there patches of scrub or woodland in the sheltered areas? Did humans change the landscape as they started using it more intensively? If so, when and how quickly did these changes occur? At the moment we just don’t know, but this is what the project is trying to find out.”

She said the team will also look at previous palaeoecological work in other parts of Shetland and trying to pull it all together to get an idea of regional differences in vegetation throughout the Neolithic period.

“Everyone we’ve spoken to so far has been really helpful, pointing out areas of deep peat that we might be interested in,” Mosley said.

“We are also hoping to do some work with Dr Val Turner at the Shetland Amenity Trust to support the Shetland Geopark, and will, Covid restrictions permitting, be back in the autumn to collect more cores.”

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.

 
Categories

Newsletters

Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.