Footprint beds record Holocene decline in large mammal diversity on the Irish Sea coast of Britain

Alison Burns*, Jamie Woodward, Chantal Conneller, Paula Reimer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Long-term monitoring along the Irish Sea coast of Britain at Formby has identified hundreds of animal and human footprints in 31 discrete sediment beds. A new programme of radiocarbon dating shows that the Formby footprints span at least 8,000 years of the Holocene Epoch from the Mesolithic period to Medieval times. In a landscape largely devoid of conventional archaeology and faunal records, we show how species data from the footprint stratigraphy document long-term change in both large mammal diversity and human behaviour. The footprint beds record shifting community structure in the native fauna through an era of profound global change. As sea levels rose rapidly in the Early Holocene, men, women and children formed part of rich Mesolithic intertidal ecosystems from ~9,000 to 6,000 cal bp, with aurochs, red deer, roe deer, wild boar, beaver, wolf and lynx. Doggerland was reclaimed by the sea in this period. In the agriculture-based societies that followed, after 5,500 cal bp human footprints dominate the Neolithic period and later beds, alongside a striking fall in large mammal species richness. Stacked footprint beds can form multimillennial records of ecosystem change with precise geographical context that cannot be retrieved from site-based fossil bone assemblages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1553-1563
Number of pages11
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Volume6
Issue number10
Early online date26 Sept 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the pioneering contributions of Gordon Roberts (1930–2016) who was the first to recognize the significance of the Formby footprints and who introduced A.B. to the sites in spring 2009 and was unfailingly generous in his encouragement of her work. We thank N. Scarle of the Cartographic Unit in the School of Environment, Education and Development at The University of Manchester for drawing the diagrams. We also thank colleagues in the Department of Geography laboratories for help with field coring, sediment analysis and the recovery of material for radiocarbon dating. The fieldwork took place when A.B. was a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology and Department of Geography at The University of Manchester supervised by C.C. and J.W. We thank N. Overton and all the students who helped with field survey campaigns. C. Gamble provided very helpful comments on an earlier draft. Funding from the UK Quaternary Research Association (14CHRONO Centre) and the Manchester Geographical Society supported the radiocarbon dating programme. We thank the National Trust for permission to undertake fieldwork along the Formby coast.

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the pioneering contributions of Gordon Roberts (1930–2016) who was the first to recognize the significance of the Formby footprints and who introduced A.B. to the sites in spring 2009 and was unfailingly generous in his encouragement of her work. We thank N. Scarle of the Cartographic Unit in the School of Environment, Education and Development at The University of Manchester for drawing the diagrams. We also thank colleagues in the Department of Geography laboratories for help with field coring, sediment analysis and the recovery of material for radiocarbon dating. The fieldwork took place when A.B. was a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology and Department of Geography at The University of Manchester supervised by C.C. and J.W. We thank N. Overton and all the students who helped with field survey campaigns. C. Gamble provided very helpful comments on an earlier draft. Funding from the UK Quaternary Research Association (CHRONO Centre) and the Manchester Geographical Society supported the radiocarbon dating programme. We thank the National Trust for permission to undertake fieldwork along the Formby coast. 14

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Footprint beds record Holocene decline in large mammal diversity on the Irish Sea coast of Britain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this