A high-resolution palaeoecological study of land use change during late prehistory on Exmoor
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Palaeoecological studies have proven to make significant contributions to two large ongoing debates that include the influential power of climate and the impact of human land management on the vegetation patterns in certain areas in the UK and Northwest Europe. The need and importance for higher resolution vegetation reconstructions has long been recognised in the wider literature. The main focus of this research is to further understand the relationship between human behaviour, climate and land cover change on Exmoor, of which the upland areas are comparable with others found in Britain and Northwest Europe. High resolution records of pollen, NPP and charcoal data are presented, stemming from three upland sites on Exmoor: Great Buscombe, Spooners and Codsend Moors. Sequences are dated with the use of radiocarbon dates and recently identified tephra layers, enabling a better comparison between sequences from different sites on Exmoor. Additionally, a long-term climate reconstruction from a fourth site, The Chains, is presented and was produced through peat humification analysis. Vegetation reconstructions were produced through pollen analysis, whereas archives of past grazing intensities and fire histories were created with the use of NPP (non-pollen palynomorph) and charcoal data. Statistical analyses of pollen, NPP, charcoal and climate data was conducted in order to test the relative importance of grazing, climate and burning on identified changes in the vegetation compositions. Palaeoecological data from Exmoor shows a general trend of woodland clearance from the late Neolithic onwards, which was largely completed by the late Iron Age. This trend has been associated with an increase in the charcoal data and a coinciding decrease of pastoralism. Results further suggest that climatic changes did not necessarily directly affect the vegetation patterns on a larger, regional scale, but may have played a key role in societal changes. Finally, changes in vegetation patterns and land use on Exmoor did not occur simultaneously across all sites, resulting in a dynamic and heterogeneous landscape from the late Neolithic until the late Iron Age.