Later Holocene vegetation history of the Isles of Scilly, UK: Coastal influence and human land use in a small island context

Marta Perez, Ralph M. Fyfe*, Dan J. Charman, W. Roland Gehrels

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Small islands tend to experience exacerbated environmental/social vulnerabilities, due to isolation, size and a small resource base. The response of social communities to environmental stress can be addressed by compiling palaeoecological proxies for land management alongside archaeological records. This paper presents pollen data from four new late Holocene sequences that lie around sea-level on the Isles of Scilly (south-west England), to understand the impact of coastal change on island communities. Interpretation of sequences near the coastal zone can be confounded by problems in disentangling human impact from maritime and wetland influence. Multivariate analysis is used to separate samples influenced by maritime conditions and wetland development from 'inland' human land management practices. During the Bronze Age clearance of woodland resulted in an intensively managed pastoral system and archaeological datasets indicate that maritime resources formed an important part of the subsistence economy. Despite coastal change that resulted in loss of land area and reduced the extent of the intertidal zone, the pollen data and evidence from existing archaeological data show continuity through later prehistory and into the medieval period. The archaeological data and pollen evidence point towards a highly resilient community that employed a mixed and varied subsistence base.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)764-778
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Quaternary Science
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • Britain
  • Coastal change
  • Island archaeology
  • Multivariate analysis
  • Pollen

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