Variation in the Continuity of Land-Use Patterns through the First Millennium AD in Lowland Britain

in Environment and Society in the Long Late Antiquity
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Abstract

This paper explores the contribution that palaeoenvironmental evidence, and in particular palynology, is making to our understanding of landscape evolution in Britain during the 1st millennium AD. This was a period of profound social and economic change including a series of invasions, some associated with a mass folk migration. Archaeologists and historians continue to debate the significance of these events, and palaeoenvironmental evidence is now starting to provide an additional perspective. Key to this has been obtaining pollen sequences, although there remains a need for more evidence from lowland areas, alongside higher resolution sampling and improved dating. It is suggested that although the 1st millennium AD saw some significant long-term shifts in climate, these are unlikely to have had a significant causal effect on landscape change in lowland areas (both in areas with and without significant Anglo-Saxon immigration). The analysis of pollen data from across Britain shows very marked regional variations in the major land-use types (arable, woodland, improved pasture, and unimproved pasture) throughout the Roman and Early Medieval periods. While Britain ceasing to be part of the Roman empire appears to have led to a decline in the intensity of agriculture, it was the ‘long 8th c.’ (the later 7th to early 9th c.) that saw a more profound change, with a period of investment, innovation, and intensification, including an expansion in arable cultivation.

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