2.1 Landscape and Environment History

By Kristian Pedersen and Dr Alexander Brown

The aim of this chapter is to set out a strategy for research for the landscape and environmental history of the South East Scotland Archaeological Framework (SESARF) area. The chapter covers the late Devensian and Holocene (broadly the last 15,000 years), identifying gaps in research and areas of existing or emerging debate, providing a basis for identifying a range of priorities and questions for future research.

This section largely synthesises the palaeoenvironmental data for landscape and environment, although it is not intended as an exhaustive survey of the existing literature. The majority of palaeoenvironmental studies are based on pollen analyses but are complemented at a smaller number of sites by the analysis of chironomids, testate amoeba, plant macrofossils and increasingly microscopic charcoal particles. Non-Pollen Palynomorphs (NPPs) have received little attention in the region but would be valuable for investigating past grazing intensity in the region. In addition, the geoarchaeological analysis of sediments has been used, particularly within fluvial systems, to investigate the causes of geomorphological change.

The number of palaeoenvironmental sequences from the SESARF region is not large when compared to other regions of Scotland, perhaps chiefly in part to the small number of lochs and the relatively limited extent of upland blanket peat. The majority of palaeoenvironmental studies are of Holocene date and derive largely from lowland and transitional lowland-upland landscapes.

The main sites mentioned in this chapter are shown on the map above. Click on the icons for more information about each site.

Important palaeoecological studies are available from the Bowmont Valley (Tipping 2010), Ravelrig Bog (GUARD Archaeology Ltd 2014), Whitrig Bog, although poorly dated (Mayle et al 1997; Brooks et al 1997a; Turney et al 1997), Dogden Moss (Dumayne-Peaty 1999a) and Temple Hill Moss (Langdon et al 2003). Both Whitrig Bog and Temple Hill Moss are significant in providing a palaeoclimate context for vegetation change in the region. The SESARF region is not unique in including many older palaeoenvironmental studies that lack the chronological and sample resolution required of modern palaeoecological analysis. However, these older sites are of value at the very least in pointing to key locations worthy of re-analysis.

Photograph of a green, hilly landscape. There are a couple of trees in the foreground, and clouds rolling in across the sky.
The Bowmont Valley landscape © Eddie Robertson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Where dates are available they are expressed as BP (calibrated BP). Common names are used for plants, followed in the first use by the appropriate Latin name in parenthesis.

In this section an overview of various aspects of the physical landscape and environmental change are set out for the SESARF Region, comprising:

  • Glacial History
  • Late Glacial and Holocene Environmental Histories

Period-focused summaries of key human activity:

  • Woodland disturbance, climate and hunter-gatherers (circa 11,700–6000 BP)
  • The Neolithic and Early Agricultural Communities
  • Later prehistory and the development of agricultural landscapes: The Bronze and Iron Ages
  • The Roman and early medieval period
  • Late Medieval and post-medieval (AD 1100–)