Landscapes Forum > Update on pollen analysis of peat core from Moss Grieve

This is just a brief message to bring you all up to date with progress on the laboratory analysis of the peat core we collected near the summit of Oxen Craig last month.

The good news is that there is plenty of pollen present in the peat, and that it is generally preserved in very good condition, making counting of the microfossils (pollen, spores, charcoal) relatively easy (as far as these things go). I have now counted pollen samples from the top 4 metres of the core (if you recall, the core extends to a total depth of 4.74m above a hard base at 4.90m). The samples are taken at regular intervals of 16 cm, and pollen from each sample has been counted until a sum of 150 TLP (total land pollen, i.e. pollen from trees, shrubs and herbs but excluding spores of ferns and mosses) was attained. This should be sufficient to produce a ‘skeletal’ pollen diagram for the site which will show the main changes in vegetation communities around Bennachie over the period during which the peat accumulated. The counts can be topped-up to 300-500 TLP at a later stage to add fine detail, although the sum of 150 is usually sufficient to draw out the main patterns in key plants.

The encouraging thing – from a botanical perspective – is that the pollen assemblages contain more than just the dominant plants from the upland plateaux. In addition to pollen from heather and sedges, and spores from Sphagnum mosses, there is pollen present from a range of trees (notably oak, hazel, birch and alder) and some herbs typical of open dryland (possibly agricultural or disturbed ground) communities such as ribwort plantain, common sorrel, and mugworts. The latter are more prominent in the upper 1.5m of the core; deeper samples contain fewer pollen from herbs, and more pollen from trees, giving some general indication that woodland surrounding the site become more open (thinned) over time (as one would suspect). There is also lots of microscopic charcoal indicating that burning of the heather moorland was a regular (presumably natural) occurrence throughout the history of the site. II don’t have the radiocarbon dates for the core yet to put absolute (precise) ages on events, but judging from ‘clues’ present in the pollen record, I suspect that the core could extend back at least 5000-7000 calendar years, placing peat inception sometime in the early Neolithic (New Stone Age) or late Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age).

Once the last few pollen samples are counted, the next stage will be to draw the pollen diagram, identify any major changes in the composition of the vegetation communities, and to try to place radiocarbon dates against these. I will also need some time to think about and interpret the data, and to digest what it all means. Still plenty of work to do, but we are getting there. I will keep you informed.

Dr Ed Schofield
University of Aberdeen

July 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Schofield

Thanks Ed
Seems to be getting better all the time, Mesolithic is Hunter/Gatherer territory, it would be great to find evidence for such an early period. Maybe the bottom of one of our open peat heads could give up some results of early signs of occupation or use from the Neolithic (or earlier!!!) We only have to look in the right places. We live in hope!
Looking forward to the next update


July 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Foster