9.2.7 Medieval

Upland cultivation is frequently suggested to have been limited by climate, which made conditions ‘marginal’ for agriculture, but these inferences are almost as often rejected by palaeoecologists and historians. Well-established examples of this debate exist for the Bronze Age/Iron Age transition (Armit et al 2014, Turney et al 2016) and the medieval period (Tipping 2002; Dodgshon 2004; 2006; Dark 2006). For instance, on Ben Lawers, an upward shift in the limits of cultivation is proposed during the 12th and 13th centuries AD and attributed a ‘climatic optimum’ (Atkinson 2016). This inference is made with reference to older palaeoclimate literature and without reference to pollen data from adjacent to the excavation site. This data instead shows continued scrubby woodland growth until the 16th century AD, when grazing was intensified, possibly in response to either economic or climatic drivers (Tipping et al 2009a; 2016). This uncomfortable contrast does not accurately reflect the availability of evidence and can be contrasted with the integrated discussion in Strachan et al (2019) for Glen Shee (see Early Medieval). It highlights the potential and need for more interdisciplinary, data-driven approaches to key questions in upland history.

View southwest from Ben Lawers ©️ Michal Klajban