6.2 Environmental Evidence

Archaeologists are not so much interested in how the constituents of the environment (eg weather, water, soils, the plants and animals they sustained) changed through space and time but how humans existed among these components, how their behaviours changed, when this happened and the extent of cause and effect. During the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age it is likely that, for the first time, human populations became significant influencers in the environmental equation, rather than just one of many broadly similar components. The purpose of palaeo-environmental investigation is to challenge, test or enhance this supposition.

In the Highlands, there is a largely untapped advantage in its mosaic of discrete landscape types: mountains, corries, glens, lochs and coastlands, each varying according to altitude, aspect and drainage. There is data to help discriminate between local and regional changes in the environment, but the information is scattered and some of the earlier studies lacked robust dating or detailed intervals. Gaps also exist in coverage in the Highlands; the main information source is deep peat, with sampling that is not always near human settlement (Chapter 3.2). Thus, although data is available, it needs to be examined critically to assess its potential for correlating changes in human behaviour with the environment at the local scale. Whether the data would allow researchers to develop explanations that are meaningful at a scale that ideally aligns with our own life-span experience also needs to be assessed.

Key sites with good information are listed below (Table 6.2), but there is far more published information, especially in the grey literature. This needs to be integrated to form a better regional and local picture, especially given how large the Highland area is and how diverse the habitats.

Key SitesSources
Oliclett, CaithnessTipping et al 2001; Tipping et al 2007a
Kilearnan Hill, SutherlandMcIntyre 1998
Garbh Allt catchment area near Golspie, Sutherland including Loch Farlary and ReidchalmaiTipping and McCullagh 2003; Tipping et al 2007b; Tipping et al 2008a; Case study Garbh Allt  
Kilbraur, near Golspie, SutherlandTimpany 2010
LairgMcCullagh and Tipping 1998; Smith 1998 ; ScARF Case Study: The Lairg Project
Langwell, Strath Oykel, Sutherland, environment around Bronze Age cist burial with excellent preservationLelong 2014
Glen AffricTipping 2003b; Davies and Tipping 2004; Davies et al 2004; Tipping et al 2006; Tipping 2008
Seafield WestCressey and Sheridan 2003; Case study Seafield West Bronze Age Cemetery
BeechwoodCressey and Strachan 2003
Clava CairnsBradley 2000; Hoaen 2000; Case study Clava Cairns
Lochloy, NairnMHG54245; Case study Lochloy
Home Farm, PortreeHastie 2013; Suddaby 2013
ArmadalePeteranna 2011b; Case study Armadale Cist Burial
Wester Ross roundhousesTimpany nd; further work ongoing by Hannah Genders Boyd
Table 6.2 Key sites with Chalcolithic and Bronze Age pollen and other environmental studies

The general trends in the Highlands have been discussed in Chapter 3.2. These show great variability for the date of the onset of peat formation throughout the Highlands. For the Bronze Age, the excavations at Lairg (ScARF Case Study: The Lairg Project) were combined with robust environmental sampling and dating programmes. This resulted in the best detailed regional study, which is widely considered a model for Scottish archaeology as a whole. The results of that study will, however, will be subjected to critical scrutiny by a current research project by Sophie MacDonald (PhD student within SUERC). While results from other investigations can be added to this, no similarly detailed landscape study has been undertaken, so it remains uncertain whether the Lairg results are applicable across the whole region.

6.2.1 Climate

6.2.2 Woodland

Case Study: Garbh Allt


ScARF Case Study: The Lairg Project


Case Study: Seafield West Bronze Age Cemetery


Case Study: Clava Cairns


Case Study: Lochloy


Case Study: Armadale Cist Burial



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