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Holocene vegetation dynamics, river valley evolution and human settlement of the upper Kama valley, Ural region, Russia

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Abstract

We present a multi-proxy reconstruction of the Holocene environment in the northern upper Kama region of Russia (59°52'-60°28'N, 54°28'-56°28'E) based upon the pollen, plant macrofossil and radiocarbon records of the sedimentary successions from the floodplain deposits of the river Kama. Palaeochannel and geochronological investigations allowed us to identify seven stages of floodplain development, which were formed through increases or decreases in the water flow of this actively meandering river during the Holocene. These changes in river flow and channel activity in the upper Kama valley most probably influenced the choice of ancient people for places to settle. Pollen records from the palaeochannel sediments reflect three phases of regional vegetation changes in the study area: (1) predominance of sparse taiga forests with Pinus (pine), Betula (birch), Picea obovata (Siberian spruce) and Larix (larch) in the early and beginning of the middle Holocene (9,800–6,400 cal bp); (2) expansion of P. obovata and penetration and spread of the temperate-climate broad-leaved trees Ulmus, Quercus, Tilia and Alnus in the middle Holocene (6,400–4,200 cal bp), and (3) appearance and spread of Abies sibirica (Siberian fir) between 4,200 and 3,400 cal bp, and formation of closed canopy Abies-Picea forest without broad-leaved trees from ca. 2,700 cal bp. Plant macrofossil assemblages from these palaeochannel sediments indicate local vegetation of wetland or semi-aquatic plant communities in this area. Our results showed that the increase in Betula and decrease of the conifers Picea, Pinus and Abies with synchronous increases of ruderal plants such as Chenopodiaceae and Artemisia and also grassland taxa show woodland clearance by humans in the Chalcolithic ca. 4,000 cal bp and in the early Iron Age and Middle Ages between 2,700 and 1,300 cal bp.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Ludmila Shumilovskikh and an anonymous reviewer for their critical comments and recommendations. Pollen and plant macrofossil studies were done under Гocyдapcтвeннoe зaдaниe Инcтитyтa экoлoгии pacтeний и живoтныx Уpaльcкoгo oтдeлeния Poccийcкoй aкaдeмии нayк, № 122021000095-0 (the State Contract of the Institute of the Plant and Animal Ecology of the Ural Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, subject No. 122021000095-0). Radiocarbon dating and palaeoarchive data interpretation were done under the Гocyдapcтвeннoe зaдaниe Инcтитyтa гeoгpaфии (FMWS-2019-0008) и Гeoлoгичecкoгo инcтитyтa Poccийcкoй aкaдeмии нayк (the State Contracts of the Institute of Geography (FMWS-2019-0008) and Geological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences). Financial support was provided by Poccийcкий фoнд фyндaмeнтaльныx иccлeдoвaний (the Russian Foundation for Basic Research), projects number 20-05-00276 (geomorphological mapping of floodplain and terraces, reconstruction of channel position) and 20-49-590002 (comprehensive studies of post-Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures).

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Lapteva, E.G., Zaretskaya, N.E., Lychagina, E.L. et al. Holocene vegetation dynamics, river valley evolution and human settlement of the upper Kama valley, Ural region, Russia. Veget Hist Archaeobot 32, 361–385 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-023-00913-5

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