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Title: Continuity and change in arable land management in the Northern Isles : evidence from anthropogenic soils
Author(s): Guttmann, E. B.
Issue Date: 2001
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Human activity can affect the soil in ways which are traceable long after the land has been given over to other uses, and past land management practices can be reconstructed by investigation of these relict characteristics. In some regions the addition of fertilising materials to the arable soils has created artificially deepened anthropogenic topsoils which can be over 1m thick. Such relict soils are found all over the world, and are widespread in north-western Europe. This work focuses on the anthropogenic soils in the Northern Isles, which were formed from the Neolithic period up until the 20th century. Three multi-period sites were investigated using thin section micromorphology, organic/inorganic phosphate analysis, soil magnetism, particle size distribution, loss on ignition and soil pH. Current views of anthropogenic soil formation, based on pedological investigation and historical documentary sources, are that they are formed as a result of the addition of domestic animal manures and turf used as animal bedding to arable areas. This project sets out to test the hypothesis that in fact anthropogenic soils are the result of a wide range of formation processes which took place over extended periods of time. The hypothesis has been tested by analysing soils and associated middens of different dates, which have been sealed and protected by blown sand deposits. The results have shown that in the Neolithic period arable soils were created by cultivating the settlement's midden heaps as well as by adding midden material to the surrounding soils. In the Bronze Age human manure, ash and domestic waste were spread onto the fields around the settlements to create arable topsoils up to 35cm thick. In the Iron Age arable agriculture was intensified by selective use of organic manures on one of the sites investigated, but organic waste material was not used as efficiently as it was in later periods, and on both sites it was allowed to accumulate within the settlements. In the Norse period, when the intensive system used in historical times appears to have originated, organic waste may have been used more efficiently. These changes appear to reflect a greater organisation of land resources and manuring strategies and increased demand for arable production over time.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: Department of Environmental Science

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