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Homo sapiens or Castor fiber?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015


Following the development of pollen analysis in the earlier part of this century, much effort was devoted to unravelling the sequence of vegetational change during and after the retreat of the last European ice-sheets. The outlines established, questions of causation came to the fore, and the debate focused on factors such as climatic change, rate of species migration from glacial refuges, and natural vegetational succession. In more recent decades, a further factor has been widely investigated, namely the possible influence of humans on the landscape, principally as farmers and smiths. The development and modification of hypotheses is well illustrated by the Elm Decline of the Atlantic period, where climate (Iversen, 1941) or man (Troels-Smith, 1960) and occasionally disease (see refs in Simmons & Tooley, 1981, 134) have been held responsible for a widespread but by no means straightforward decline in elm pollen.

Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd. 1983

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This article shows how environmental evidence for European stone age forest clearance may require re-interpretation, and that change need not be attributed only to climate or man. Observations in North America and Europe show the beaver to be a significant agent of land transformation. The authors suggest that both hunters and farmers took advaniage of the opportunities thus presented, and a few hints are provided about their detection and the implications for the Mesolithic and early Neolithic of north-western Europe. J. M. Coles is Professor of European Prehistory at Cambridge and B. J. Orme is Lecturer in Prehistory at Exeter. They are joint directors of the Somerset Levels Project, the source of the ideas for this article.


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