Do sub-decadal climate impacts on human populations leave a detectable legacy in palaeoenvironmental archives? A tephra-dated interrogation of settlement in a marginal environment

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    Significant advances in the correlation of annually-dated archives of past climate change have recently highlighted the susceptibility of human populations to extreme weather events and long-term climate oscillations. During the last millennium, rising population densities and increasingly complex economic systems rendered societies particularly vulnerable to devastating crop failures, famines and pestilence. We consider whether these documented social catastrophes register in a bidecadally-resolved peat sequence typical of many palaeoenvironmental studies. Using a series of historically-dated tephra layers to pinpoint the timing of major demographic collapses and climate perturbations, we examine continuous, integrated palaeohydrology and palynological records from an upland raised bog in the northeast of Ireland. The site currently lies above the current crop-growing limit in this region, remote from present-day settlement, but abandoned houses and field systems testify to the former occupation of the area. The pollen record reveals that settlement expanded into the area around AD 1200, and entailed mixed crop agriculture. Farming continued through the Little Ice Age up until the start of the 20th century, declining only for a short period in the 15th century. On the basis of the pollen record, it appears that expansion of settlement into this marginal environment post-dated the Medieval Warm period, and that the local population was not notably impacted by extreme weather events, wetter or colder conditions associated with the Little Ice Age, or demographic crashes in the long-term. We evaluate the reasons for this apparent resilience, including the limitations posed by the temporal resolution of the palaeoenvironmental record, and the potential buffering afforded by the relative isolation and perhaps economic independence of the population. We consider the implications of our findings for identifying and understanding population vulnerability to climate change further in the past.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2017
    EventPAGES 5th Open Science Meeting - Zaragoza, Spain
    Duration: 09 May 201713 May 2017


    ConferencePAGES 5th Open Science Meeting

    ID: 161929657