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Vegetation development at a mountain settlement site in the Swedish Scandes during the late Holocene: palaeoecological evidence of human-induced deforestation

Abstract

A palaeoecological study was conducted close to the forest limit in the northern Scandinavian mountain range. The aim was to elucidate the degree to which human impact has affected the vegetation at Hiednikvalta, a Stállo settlement site. Stállo settlements consist of round hut foundations that have a hearth in the middle and are surrounded by a low turf wall. They were probably established by Sámi people using the mountain areas for hunting and/or reindeer herding. In order to separate the effects of humans and climate on the vegetation, a reference area approach was adopted, i.e. the vegetation development at the Stállo settlement site Hiednikvalta was compared with the vegetation development in a forested reference area Avvuhatjåhkkå, at the same altitude as Hiednikvalta but with no archaeological remains of settlements. Peat stratigraphies were retrieved at the two sites and pollen analysis, loss-on-ignition (LOI), pollen accumulation rates (PAR), macrofossil analysis and Betula pollen size statistics were all examined. The results indicate that Hiednikvalta was forested with Betula trees prior to the Stállo settlement period, which occurred between the eighth and thirteenth centuries. Human activities resulted in a decrease in tree cover at the site, as found in a previous study at Adamvalta, another Stállo settlement site in the region. However, the magnitude of vegetation change, and the post-Stállo vegetation development differed between the two areas, suggesting that site-specific factors are important. The use of reference areas in palynological studies is also discussed.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Ingela Bergman, Tom DeLuca, Sheila Hicks, Torbjörn Josefsson, Lars Liedgren, Lars Östlund, Ulf Segerström, Göran Ståhl, Henrik von Stedingk and Olle Zackrisson for help, advice and interesting discussions. We also thank Henrik von Stedingk and Eeva Maria Mäkelä for providing the computer programs and Eva-Maria Nordström for help with the pollen analyses. The manuscript was improved by comments from Bent Aaby and two anonymous reviewers and the language was improved by John Blackwell. This research is the result of a joint project between SLU and the Silver Museum in Arjeplog. It was funded by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation (K2003-0458:1).

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Correspondence to Hanna Karlsson.

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Karlsson, H., Shevtsova, A. & Hörnberg, G. Vegetation development at a mountain settlement site in the Swedish Scandes during the late Holocene: palaeoecological evidence of human-induced deforestation. Veget Hist Archaeobot 18, 297–314 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-008-0207-1

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Keywords

  • Vegetation history
  • Stállo settlement
  • Human impact
  • Reference area approach
  • Betula
  • Pollen size statistics