Steven West


This thesis evaluates the utility of a geochemical technique for the investigation of palaeoenvironmental change in south west England. The method, EDMA (Energy Dispersive X-ray Micro Analysis), is a rapid, non-destructive analysis tool, capable of detecting a large range of geochemical elements. This research examines the most appropriate method of sample preparation for organic soils and peats, and investigates the reliability of results gained from EDMA with respect to conventional bulk geochemical techniques. A detailed study focused on a range of different sedimentary sites in south west England where a variety of palaeoenvironmental changes were thought to occur. Pollen analysis was undertaken on the same sedimentary material, and provided complementary information on the nature and scale of vegetation change through time. Sediments from a coastal valley mire near North Sands, Salcombe, revealed information relating to the processes of sea-level change in this part of south Devon and the subsequent autogenic processes as the sediment accumulated through time. A range of sites were located on the granitic upland of Dartmoor. A raised bog, Tor Royal, provided data relating to the changing nature of the central upland landscape from late Mesolithic times to the present day. Two soligenous sites. Upper Merrivale and Piles Copse, sought to investigate the activities of postulated anthropogenic activity at a much smaller spatial scale, with particular interest placed upon the evidence for deforestation activity and the utilisation of the local mineral resources. The last site, Crift Down, a lowland spring fed valley mire utilised geochemical and palynological fluxes within the peat to investigate processes and activities associated with archaeological evidence for Medieval tinworking in this area of Cornwall. The results from the EDMA investigations, and comparable studies using other geochemical methods including EMMA, AAS and flame photometry, suggest the technique to have greatest applicability as a first stage tool in the analysis of general activities of past environmental change. The technique was found to yield reliable results for the major elements (Si, Al, S, Fe, Ca, K, Na and Mg), but is generally incapable of providing useful data on heavy metal elements. The data from south west England suggest the method to reflect activity at a range of different scales, and as part of a structured programme of analysis may contribute information to allow a more holistic environmental reconstruction to be made.

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