Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 251–267 | Cite as

Prehistoric Pinus woodland dynamics in an upland landscape in northern Scotland: the roles of climate change and human impact

  • Richard Tipping
  • Patrick Ashmore
  • Althea L. Davies
  • B. Andrew Haggart
  • Andrew Moir
  • Anthony Newton
  • Robert Sands
  • Theo Skinner
  • Eileen Tisdall
Original Article


Pollen, microscopic charcoal, palaeohydrological and dendrochronological analyses are applied to a radiocarbon and tephrochronologically dated mid Holocene (ca. 8500–3000 cal b.p.) peat sequence with abundant fossil Pinus (pine) wood. The Pinus populations on peat fluctuated considerably over the period in question. Colonisation by Pinus from ca. 7900–7600 cal b.p. appears to have had no specific environmental trigger; it was probably determined by the rate of migration from particular populations. The second phase, at ca. 5000–4400 cal b.p., was facilitated by anthropogenic interference that reduced competition from other trees. The pollen record shows two Pinus declines. The first at ca. 6200–5500 cal b.p. was caused by a series of rapid and frequent climatic shifts. The second, the so-called pine decline, was very gradual (ca. 4200–3300 cal b.p.) at Loch Farlary and may not have been related to climate change as is often supposed. Low intensity but sustained grazing pressures were more important. Throughout the mid Holocene, the frequency and intensity of burning in these open PinusCalluna woods were probably highly sensitive to hydrological (climatic) change. Axe marks on several trees are related to the mid to late Bronze Age, i.e., long after the trees had died.


Pinus Pollen analysis Climate change Human activity Scotland 


  1. Agee JK (1998) Fire and pine ecosystems. In: Richardson DM (ed) Ecology and biogeography of Pinus. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 193–218Google Scholar
  2. Alley RB, Mayewski PA, Showers T, Stuiver M, Taylor KC, Clark PU (1997) Holocene climatic instability: a prominent, widespread event 8200 yr ago. Geology 25:483–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson DE (1995) An abrupt mid-Holocene decline of Pinus sylvestris in Glen Torridon, northern Scotland: implications for palaeoclimatic change. School of Geography Research Papers No. 52, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson DE (1996) Abrupt Holocene climatic change recorded in terrestrial peat sequences from Wester Ross, Scotland. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Oxford University, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  5. Anderson DE (1998) A reconstruction of Holocene climatic changes from peat bogs in north-west Scotland. Boreas 27:208–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Anderson DE, Binney HA, Smith MA (1998) Evidence for abrupt climatic change in northern Scotland between 3900 and 3500 calendar years b.p. Holocene 8:97–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baillie MGL, Pilcher JR (1973) A simple cross-dating program for tree-ring research. Tree-Ring Bull 33:7–14Google Scholar
  8. Bennett KD (1984) The post-glacial history of Pinus sylvestris in the British Isles. Q Sci Rev 3:133–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bennett KD (1994) Annotated catalogue of pollen and pteridophyte spore types of the British Isles. Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge (
  10. Bennett KD (1995) Postglacial dynamics of pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) and pinewoods in Scotland. In: Aldhous JR (eds) Our pinewood heritage. Forestry Commission, Farnham, pp 23–39Google Scholar
  11. Bennett KD, Birks HJB (1990) Postglacial history of alder (Alnus glutinosa (L.) Gaertn.) in the British Isles. J Q Sci 5:123–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Birks HH (1975) Studies in the vegetational history of Scotland. IV. Pine stumps in Scottish blanket peats. Phil Trans R Soc Ldn B270:181–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Birks HJB (1989) Holocene isochrone maps and patterns of tree-spreading in the British Isles. J Biogeogr 16:503–540CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Birks HJB (1994) Did Icelandic volcanic eruptions influence the post-glacial vegetation history of the British Isles? Trends Ecol Evol 9:312–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Blackford JJ, Chambers FM (1993) Determining the degree of peat decomposition for peat-based palaeoclimatic studies. Int Peat J 5:7–24Google Scholar
  16. Blackford JJ, Chambers FM (1995) Proxy climate record for the last 1000 years from Irish blanket peat and a possible link to solar variability. Earth Planet Sci Lett 133:145–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Blackford JJ, Edwards KJ, Dugmore AJ, Cook GT, Buckland PC (1992) Icelandic volcanic ash and the mid-Holocene Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) pollen decline in northern Scotland. Holocene 2:260–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Bond G, Showers W, Cheseby M, Lotti R, Almasi P, deMenocal P, Priore P, Cullen H, Hajdas I, Bonani G (1997) A pervasive millennial-scale cycle in North Atlantic Holocene and glacial climates. Science 278:1257–1266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Boyd WE, Dickson JH (1987) A post-glacial pollen sequence from Loch a’ Mhuilinn, North Arran: a record of vegetation history with special reference to the history of endemic Sorbus species. New Phytol 107:221–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Bradshaw RHW, Browne P (1987) Changing patterns in the post-glacial distribution of Pinus sylvestris in Ireland. J Biogeogr 14:237–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Bridge MC, Haggart BA, Lowe JJ (1990) The history and palaeoclimatic significance of subfossil remains of Pinus sylvestris in blanket peats from Scotland. J Ecol 78:77–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Carter S (1998) The use of peat and other organic sediments as fuel in northern Scotland: identifications derived from soil thin sections. In: Mills CM, Coles G (eds) Life on the edge: human settlement and marginality. Oxbow, Oxford, pp 99–103Google Scholar
  23. Charman DJ (1994) Late-glacial and Holocene vegetation history of the Flow Country, northern Scotland. New Phytol 127:155–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Cowley DC (1998) Identifying marginality in the first and second millennia BC in the Strath of Kildonan, Sutherland. In: Mills CM, Coles G (eds) Life on the edge: human settlement and marginality. Oxbow, Oxford, pp 165–171Google Scholar
  25. Crawford RMM (1997) Oceanicity and the ecological disadvantage of warm winters. Bot J Scotl 49:205–222Google Scholar
  26. Daniell JRG (1997) The late-Holocene palaeoecology of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) in north-west Scotland. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Durham, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  27. Davies AL (1999) Fine spatial resolution Holocene vegetation and land-use history in west Glen Affric and Kintail, Northern Scotland. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Stirling, StirlingGoogle Scholar
  28. Davies A (2003a) Torran Beithe: Holocene history of a blanket peat landscape. In: Tipping RM (ed) The quaternary of Glen Affric and Kintail. Field guide. Quaternary Research Association, London, pp 41–48Google Scholar
  29. Davies A (2003b) Carnach Mor and Camban: woodland history and land-use in alluvial settings. In: Tipping RM (ed) The quaternary of Glen Affric and Kintail. Field guide. Quaternary Research Association, London, pp 75–84Google Scholar
  30. Dubois AD, Ferguson DK (1985) The climatic history of pine in the Cairngorms based on radiocarbon dates and stable isotope analysis, with an account of events leading up to its colonization. Rev Palaeobot Palynol 46:55–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Dugmore AJ, Larsen G, Newton AJ, Sugden DE (1992) Geochemical stability of fine-grained silicic tephra layers in Iceland and Scotland. J Q Sci 7:173–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Dugmore AJ, Larsen G, Newton AJ (1995a) Seven tephra isochrones in Scotland. Holocene 5:257–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Dugmore AJ, Shore JS, Cook GT, Newton AJ, Edwards KJ, Larsen G (1995b) The radiocarbon dating of Icelandic tephra layers in Britain and Ireland. Radiocarbon 37:286–295Google Scholar
  34. Fossitt JA (1994) Modern pollen rain in the northwest of the British Isles. Holocene 4:465–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Froyd CA (2005) Fossil stomata reveal early pine presence in Scotland: implications for postglacial colonization analyses. Ecology 86:579–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gear AJ (1989) Holocene vegetational history and the palaeoecology of Pinus sylvestris in northern Scotland. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Durham, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  37. Gear AJ, Huntley B (1991) Rapid changes in the range limits of Scots Pine 4000 years ago. Science 251:544–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Godwin HE (1975) History of the British flora, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  39. Grimm EC (1987) CONISS: a FORTRAN 77 program for stratigraphically constrained cluster analysis by the method of incremental sum of squares. Comput Geosci 13:13–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Grimm EC (1991) TILIA and TILIA·GRAPH. Illinois State Museum, SpringfieldGoogle Scholar
  41. Hall VA, McVicker SJ, Pilcher JR (1994) Tephra-linked landscape history around 2310 B.C. of some sites in counties Antrim and Down. Biol Environ Proc R Ir Acad 94B:245–253Google Scholar
  42. Hansen BCS (1995) Conifer stomate analysis as a paleoecological tool: an example from the Hudson Bay lowlands. Can J Bot 73:244–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Huntley B, Daniell JRG, Allen JRM (1997) Scottish vegetation history: the Highlands. Bot J Scotl 49:163–175Google Scholar
  44. Kerslake PD (1982) Vegetational history of wooded islands in Scottish lochs. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Cambridge, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  45. Klitgaard-Kristensen D, Sejrup P, Haflidason H, Johnsen S, Spurk MA (1998) The regional 8200 cal yr b.p. cooling event in northwest Europe, induced by final stages of the Laurentide ice-sheet deglaciation. J Q Sci 13:165–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lageard JGA, Chambers FM, Thomas PA (1999) Climatic significance of the marginalization of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) c. 2500 B.C. at White Moss, south Cheshire, UK. Holocene 9:321–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lageard JGA, Chambers FM, Thomas PA (2000) Using fire scars and growth release in subfossil Scots pine to reconstruct prehistoric fires. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclim Palaeoecol 64:87–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ledig FT (1998) Genetic variation in Pinus. In: Richardson DM (ed) Ecology and biogeography of Pinus. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 251–280Google Scholar
  49. Leuschner HH, Bauerochse A, Metzler A (2007) Environmental change, bog history and human impact around 2900 B.C. in NW Germany—preliminary results from a dendroecological study of a sub-fossil pine woodland at Campemoor, Dümmer Basin. Veg Hist Archaeobot 16:183–195 (online doi:10.1007/s00334-006-0084-4)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Long A, Ripeteu B (1974) Testing contemporaneity and averaging radiocarbon dates. Am Antiq 39:205–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lowe JJ (1993) Isolating the climatic factors in early- and mid-Holocene palaeobotanical records from Scotland. In: Chambers FM (ed) Climate change and human impact on the landscape. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 67–82Google Scholar
  52. McCullagh RPJ, Tipping R (1998) The Lairg project 1988–1996: the evolution of an archaeological landscape in northern Scotland. Scott Trust for Arch Res, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  53. Moore PD, Webb JA, Collinson ME (1991) Pollen analysis, 2nd edn. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  54. Nesje A, Dahl SO (2001) The Greenland 8200 cal yr b.p. event detected in Norwegian loss-on-ignition lacustrine sediment sequences. J Q Sci 16:155–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. O’Brien SR, Mayewski PA, Meeker LD, Meese DA, Twickler MS, Whitlow SI (1995) Complexity of Holocene climate as reconstructed from a Greenland ice core. Science 270:1962–1964CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Oldfield F (1959) The pollen morphology of some of the west European Ericales. Pollen Spores 1:19–48Google Scholar
  57. Parker Pearson M (1999) The earlier Bronze Age. In: Hunter J, Ralston I (eds) The archaeology of Britain. Routledge, London, pp 77–94Google Scholar
  58. Parker AG, Goudie AS, Anderson DE, Robinson MA, Bonsall C (2001) A review of the mid-Holocene elm decline in the British Isles. Prog Phys Geogr 26:1–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Parshall T (1999) Documenting forest stand invasion: fossil stomata and pollen in forest hollows. Can J Bot 69:1529–1538CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Patterson WA III, Edwards KJ, Maguire DJ (1987) Microscopic charcoal as a fossil indicator of fire. Q Sci Rev 6:3–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rich TCG, Fitzgerald R, Sydes C (1998) Distribution and ecology of small cow-wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum L.; Scrophulariaceae) in the British Isles. Bot J Scotl 50:29–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rohling EJ, Pälike H (2005) Centennial-scale climate cooling with a sudden cold event around 8,200 years ago. Nature 434:975–979CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Smith MA (1996) The role of vegetation dynamics and human activity in landscape changes through the Holocene in the Lairg area, Sutherland, Scotland. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of London, LondonGoogle Scholar
  64. Smith MA (1998) Holocene regional vegetation history of the Lairg area. In: McCullagh RPJ, Tipping R (eds) The Lairg project 1988–1996: the evolution of an archaeological landscape in northern Scotland. Scott Trust Arch Res, Edinburgh, pp 177–199Google Scholar
  65. Stace C (1997) New flora of the British Isles, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  66. Stager JC, Mayewski PA (1997) Abrupt early to mid-Holocene climatic transitions registered at the Equator and the Poles. Science 276:1834–1836CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Steven HM, Carlisle A (1959) The native pinewoods of Scotland. Oliver and Boyd, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  68. Stuiver M, Reimer P, Bard E, Beck JW, Burr GS, Hughen KA, Kromer B, McCormac G, Plich JVD, Spurk M (1998) INTCAL98 radiocarbon age calibration, 24000-0 cal BP. Radiocarbon 40:1041–1083Google Scholar
  69. Tipping R (1994) The form and fate of Scotland’s woodlands. Proc Soc Antiq Scotl 124:1–54Google Scholar
  70. Tipping R (1996) Microscopic charcoal records, inferred human activity and climate change in the mesolithic of northernmost Scotland. In: Pollard A, Morrison A (eds) The early prehistory of Scotland. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp 39–61Google Scholar
  71. Tipping R, Milburn P (2000) The mid-Holocene charcoal fall in southern Scotland: spatial and temporal variability. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclim Palaeoecol 164:193–209Google Scholar
  72. Tipping R, Tisdall E (2004) Continuity, crisis and climate change in the Neolithic and early Bronze periods of north west Europe. In: Shepherd IAG, Barclay G (eds) Scotland in ancient Europe. The neolithic and early bronze ages of Scotland in their European context. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh, pp 71–82Google Scholar
  73. Tipping R, Davies A, Tisdall E (2006) Long-term woodland dynamics in West Glen Affric, northern Scotland. Forestry 79:351–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Tipping R, Ashmore P, Davies A, Haggart A, Moir A, Newton A, Sands R, Skinner T, Tisdall E (2007) Peat, pine stumps & people: interactions between climate, vegetation change & human activity in wetland archaeology at Loch Farlary, northern Scotland. In: Sheridan A (ed) Wetland archaeology in the British Isles. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh, pp 157–164Google Scholar
  75. Tisdall E (2000) Holocene climate change in Glen Affric, northern Scotland: a multi-proxy approach. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Stirling, StirlingGoogle Scholar
  76. Tisdall E (2003a) Loch Coulavie: stratigraphic data on Holocene lake-level and proxy precipitation change. In: Tipping RM (ed) The quaternary of Glen Affric and Kintail. Field guide. Quaternary Research Association, London, pp 29–40Google Scholar
  77. Tisdall E (2003b) West Glen Affric: peat-stratigraphic data on Holocene climate change—humification patterns and the identification of a long-term temperature record. In: Tipping RM (ed) The quaternary of Glen Affric and Kintail. Field guide. Quaternary Research Association, London, pp 55–62Google Scholar
  78. Trautmann W (1953) Zur Unterscheidung fossiler Spaltöffnungen der mitteleuropäischen Coniferen. Flora 140:523–533Google Scholar
  79. Ward RGW, Haggart BA, Bridge MC (1987) Dendrochronological studies of bog pine from the Rannoch Moor area, western Scotland. In: Ward RGW (ed) Applications of tree ring studies. BAR International Series 333, Oxford, pp 215–225Google Scholar
  80. Whitehouse NJ (2000) Forest fires and insects: palaeoentomological research from a subfossil burnt forest. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclim Palaeoecol 164:247–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Willis KJ, Bennett KD, Birks HJB (1998) The late Quaternary dynamics of pines in Europe. In: Richardson DM (ed) Ecology and biogeography of Pinus. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 107–121Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Tipping
    • 1
  • Patrick Ashmore
    • 2
  • Althea L. Davies
    • 1
  • B. Andrew Haggart
    • 3
  • Andrew Moir
    • 4
  • Anthony Newton
    • 5
  • Robert Sands
    • 6
  • Theo Skinner
    • 7
  • Eileen Tisdall
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological and Environmental SciencesStirling UniversityStirlingScotland, UK
  2. 2.Historic ScotlandEdinburghScotland
  3. 3.Natural Resources InstituteUniversity of Greenwich at MedwayChatham MaritimeEngland
  4. 4.Department of Geography and Earth SciencesBrunel UniversityMiddlesexEngland
  5. 5.School of GeoSciences, The Grant InstituteUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghScotland
  6. 6.School of Archaeology, Newman BuildingUniversity College DublinDublin 4Ireland
  7. 7.National Museums ScotlandEdinburghScotland

Personalised recommendations