2.10 Late medieval and post-medieval

By Kristian Pedersen and Alexander Brown

The late medieval and post-medieval periods are defined by key events, including the emergence of a united Scottish Kingdom from the 12th century, periodic hostilities between England and Scotland punctuated by periods of relative peace, and documented events including climate deterioration, famines and disease such as The Black Death (see SESARF medieval chapter – coming soon).

Oram (2014) has argued that the study of environmental history in Scotland lags behind that in England, with a greater focus needed on research integrating history, archaeology and environmental sciences. The palaeoenvironmental record represents an important tool for investigating environmental history, although attempts to link vegetation change and historical events have been limited by the inadequate chronology of many pollen sequences from the region.

Radiocarbon-dated palaeoenvironmental records covering the late medieval and post-medieval periods include sequences from the Bowmont Valley (Tipping 2010), Ravelrig Bog (GUARD Archaeology Ltd 2014) and Dogden Moss (Dumayne-Peaty 1999a). Tipping (2010) could see no clear environmental or agricultural changes in pollen sequences from the Bowmont Valley which could be linked to short-term political or military crises. Indeed, short-term or highly localised events (eg. periods of cross-border hostility) may be very difficult or impossible to adequately resolve in palaeoecological records irrespective of a high level of sample and chronological resolution. However, Dumayne-Peaty (1999a) did suggest a possible link in the Dogden Moss pollen sequence with cycles of political unrest and possibly also documented famine and disease.

view of a hilly glen. The plants in the foreground are a rich mix of greens and warm browns. There is a faint sea view in the background.
 Sheeppath Glen in the Lammermiur Hills © Richard Webb (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The role and influence of natural climate factors on vegetation, settlement and land-use has also been considered by Tipping (2010), particularly the series of climate minima between c 1300 and 1850 collectively defined as the Little Ice Age. There is clear evidence from the Bowmont Valley for a link between climate deterioration and increased soil erosion and fluvial activity. However, the impact of climate on vegetation is unclear because of the lack of finely resolved palaeoecological records from the region. The impact on settlement and land use remains equally unclear, particularly within upland and marginal settings. Palaeoecological data can nonetheless play an important role alongside geomorphic, archaeological and historic data in investigating the vulnerability and resilience of human communities to deteriorations and perturbations in climate.

Photograph of a green landscape at the foot of a green hill. In the foreground, there is a pasture with grazing cows. Behind the pastures is a green bog.
Pasture and Whitrig Bog, near the Tweed River © Richard Webb (CC BY-SA 2.0)