Testing the impact of abrupt climate change on prehistoric societies

Theme: Past Life & Environments

Primary Supervisor:

Ian Candy

Department of Geography, RHUL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Ian Matthews

Department of Geography, RHUL

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Project Description:

There has been much debate about the role that abrupt climate events in the Holocene (8.2ka, 4.2ka and 2.8ka events) played in the decline and collapse of early societies. Whilst these ideas are widely discussed they are very often limited because the record of abrupt events are often; 1) low resolution, or 2) far distant from the location of the archaeological sites in question. Many studies rely heavily on the high-resolution Greenland ice core records, an approach that assumes that the timing and magnitude of abrupt events are consistent across large spatial areas. This is an assumption that is difficult to validate. This study aims to test these ideas by generating high-resolution, multi-proxy records of abrupt events from lake sediments that are proximal to the important archaeological sites. The focus of this project will be on the 8.2 ka event which has been proposed to have caused large-scale population decline in northwest Europe and, in particular, the de-population of northern Britain. The researcher will develop expertise in biological proxies, isotopes, biomarkers and tephra analysis. The project will have major implications for both our understanding of past episodes of abrupt climate change and the vulnerability of societies to environmental instability.

Policy Impact of Research:

Studies are beginning to model the impact of future abrupt climate events on Britain’s climate and economy, however, this is based entirely on modeeling studies with little empirical data to support this. This project aims to provide a detailed understanding of not just the magnitude of such events but also their impact on landscape and ecosystems. Consequently, the study will provide the data to underpin these modelling studies and associated socio-economic policy decisions/planning.

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