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Later prehistoric vegetation dynamics and Bronze Age agriculture at Hobbister, Orkney, Scotland

Farrell, Michelle


Michelle Farrell


The Bronze Age in Britain was a time of major social and cultural changes, reflected in the division of the landscape into field systems and the establishment of new belief systems and ritual practices. Several hypotheses have been advanced to explain these changes, and assessment of many of them is dependent on the availability of detailed palaeoenvironmental data from the sites concerned. This paper explores the development of a later prehistoric landscape in Orkney, where a Bronze Age field system and an apparently ritually-deposited late Bronze Age axe head are located in an area of deep blanket peat from which high-resolution palaeoenvironmental sequences have been recovered. There is no indication that the field system was constructed to facilitate agricultural intensification, and it more likely reflects a cultural response to social fragmentation associated with a more dispersed settlement pattern. There is evidence for wetter conditions during the later Bronze Age, and the apparent votive deposit may reflect the efforts of the local population to maintain community integrity during a time of perceptible environmental change leading to loss of farmland. The study emphasises the advantages of close integration of palaeoenvironmental and archaeological data for interpretation of prehistoric human activity. The palaeoenvironmental data also provide further evidence for the complexity of prehistoric woodland communities in Orkney, hinting at greater diversity than is often assumed. Additionally, differing dates for woodland decline in the two sequences highlight the dangers of over-extrapolation from trends observed in a single pollen profile, even at a very local scale.


Farrell, M. (2015). Later prehistoric vegetation dynamics and Bronze Age agriculture at Hobbister, Orkney, Scotland. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 24(4), 467-486. doi:10.1007/s00334-014-0507-6

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 25, 2014
Online Publication Date Dec 5, 2014
Publication Date Jul 8, 2015
Deposit Date Apr 20, 2016
Publicly Available Date Apr 20, 2016
Journal Vegetation history and archaeobotany
Print ISSN 0939-6314
Electronic ISSN 1617-6278
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 4
Pages 467-486
Keywords Agriculture; Bronze age; Field systems; Orkney; Pollen analysis; Votive deposition
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the authors accepted version of an article published in Vegetation history and archaeobotany, 2015, v.24 issue 4.


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