Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 19, Issue 5–6, pp 545–558 | Cite as

Late Mesolithic environmental change at Black Heath, south Pennines, UK: a test of Mesolithic woodland management models using pollen, charcoal and non-pollen palynomorph data

Original Article


The recognition of Mesolithic impacts in mid Holocene pollen diagrams of the British Isles has led to the development of models describing sophisticated woodland management, particularly through the use of fire, by Mesolithic populations. However, the significance of human agency in creating mid Holocene woodland disturbances is unclear, with natural and human-induced clearings arguably indistinguishable in the pollen record. Analysis of non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs) should aid the identification of events and processes occurring within these woodland disturbances and provide more precise palaeoecological data. In this paper we present pollen, charcoal and NPP analyses from a potentially critical location in the Mesolithic impacts debate. NPP types aid significantly in the reconstructions, suggesting periods of dead wood, grazing, local burning and wetter ground conditions. The results indicate that between 7700 and 6800 cal b.p., a predominantly wooded environment periodically gave way to phases of more open woodland, with inconsistent evidence for animal grazing. From 6800 cal b.p., a phase of open woodland associated with high charcoal concentrations and indicators of grazing was observed. This probably represents the deliberate firing of vegetation to improve grazing and browse resources, although it remains unclear whether fire was responsible for initially creating the woodland opening, or if it was part of an opportunistic use of naturally occurring woodland clearings.


Holocene Mesolithic Fire Fungi NPPs United Kingdom 



The research was carried out during PAR’s doctoral studies, partly funded by a School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester bursary. Radiocarbon dates were provided by the Manchester Geographical Society initially, whilst the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) provided the AMS determinations. Graham Bowden drew Figs. 1 and 2. The authors’ attention was first drawn to the site by David Shimwell who also provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the paper. Kevin Edwards provided thoughtful discussion on the possible origins of the charcoal and initial inspiration for multi-proxy Mesolithic studies. The paper was improved by an anonymous reviewer and by J. N. Haas.


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© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geography, School of Environment and DevelopmentUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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