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The Neolithic Pine Project

Background

Due to the apparent synchronicity of changes over large distances in northern Scotland, fluctuations in the range and altitude of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) during the Holocene have been widely interpreted as the species responding to climatic change. However, attempts to define the timing of these change have been limited, due lack of precision in palynological and radiocarbon investigations. While Scotland's bogs today are predominantly treeless, extensive horizons of subfossil pine demonstrate that in the past these peatlands have been suitable for the mass colonisation of Scots pine.

A calendar dated Neolithic pine chronology

In 2002, subfossil bog pines at nine sites in Northern Scotland were tentatively dated establishing a Neolithic pine chronology called WRATH-9. Pine from and additional three areas south and west of Ullapool were recovered in 2008 and dated to establish a well replicated Neolithic pine chronology called WRATH-12. The WRATH-12 chronology is dated to span 3180-2790 BC against previously dated Irish pine chronologies.

An in-situ subfossil pine stump exposed in an old peat cutting near Inverasdale. Map of Northern Scotland showing the locations of the twelve sites where subfossil bog pine have been precisely dated through dendrochronology.

Significance

  • The results support a conclusion that the growth, die-off and subsequent preservation of this cohort of subfossil pine are a regional phenomenon most likely triggered by climate change.
  • Scottish subfossil bog pine is shown to be particularly useful for investigations of climate, because of its pronounced and typically synchronised germination/die-off phases and common growth trends between sites.
  • Subfossil pine north of Inverness provides an accurate dating horizon, which due to the occurrence of pine in stratigraphic context (over a wide region and typically association with archaeology) provides excellent opportunities for future multi-discipline research.


A section of subfossil pine from a site near Poolewe, tree-ring dated to have germinated around 3178 BC, the last ring measured grew in 3103 BC

Further research

Ongoing research aims:
  • To help define and increase understanding of this important period of climatic change at the transition between the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
  • To link precise dates with archaeology and help identify the effects of environmental variability on human history.
  • To encourage multi-discipline research collaborations.

Acknowledgements

This research has been funded by Tree-Ring Services and two grants towards fieldwork by the Quaternary Research Association. We are grateful to the land owners, for permission to carry out sampling.

Further reading (which includes details on the population dynamics and significance of environmental-growth relationships)

Moir, A K, (in press) Development of a Neolithic Pine Tree-Ring Chronology for Northern Scotland, Journal of Quaternary Science.

Moir, A K, Leroy, S A G, Brown, D M, and Collins, P E F, 2010 Dendrochronological evidence for a lower water table on peatland around 3200-3000 BC from subfossil pine in northern Scotland, The Holocene, 20(6), 931-4

Moir, A K, 2008 The dendroclimatology of Modern and Neolithic Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) in the peatlands of northern Scotland, Unpublished PhD thesis, Brunel University.

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Updated: 08/03/2012


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