People, land-use and time: linking multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental data to the archaeological record of prehistoric Co. Clare, Ireland
Spencer, Daisy Eleanor
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The aim of this thesis is to understand the nature of changing human-environment interactions through prehistory (from the Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age) in two neighbouring regions of western Ireland. The first is the study site of Lough Inchiquin, located to the south of the Burren, Co. Clare, and specifically near to the landscape of Roughan Hill known for its dense concentration of Chalcolithic – Early Bronze Age sites. The second study site is Rosroe Lough, Co. Clare, situated to the east of the Late Bronze Age site of Mooghaun hillfort. Sediment cores were extracted from both lakes in order to carry out palaeoenvironmental analysis. Through the establishment of robust chronologies for the sediment cores it is possible to compare the archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data with regard to human-environment interactions in the two study areas. A range of techniques were applied to the sediment core extracted from Lough Inchiquin. Pollen, macrofossil and palaeolimnological analysis including chironomid (non-biting midge) sub-fossil analysis, organic and inorganic geochemistry was undertaken. The local archaeology is contextualised in its landscape setting leading to a discussion of human-environment interactions through time based primarily on pollen data and including comparisons with previous palaeoenvironmental research in the area. The results highlight the impact of the Neolithic Landnam on the catchment and subsequent periods of increased farming activity. Interestingly, this is revealed to be most intensive during the Late Bronze Age, a period when the known archaeological evidence for human activity in this area is limited. The nutrient enrichment of the lake through time has been identified through palaeolimnology (chironomid and organic geochemistry) which can be linked to land-use in the surrounding catchment and demonstrates localised pastoral farming activity in the Late Bronze Age. In addition, inorganic geochemistry highlights a period of significant erosion from the Burren into Lough Inchiquin. Pollen and macrofossil analyses were undertaken on the sediment core extracted from Rosroe Lough, twenty six kilometres to the south-east in the Mooghaun Landblock. Human-environment interactions, with an increasing intensity of farming activity through time, and comparison with previous palaeoenvironmental research in the area, are discussed. The palaeoenvironmental evidence correlates well with the archaeological record – with the lack of a Neolithic Landnam in the pollen profile supported by the scarcity of archaeological remains from this period and an intensification of human activity seen in the Late Bronze Age. Multi-proxy analyses are vital to this study and the application of palaeolimnology to the Lough Inchiquin sediment core, in particular, demonstrates the additional information that can be gained by applying a multi-proxy approach to palaeoenvironmental investigations. The final analysis consists of a comparison, through time, of human-environment interactions in these two neighbouring but contrasting landscapes. This provides a more holistic interpretation of the prehistory of Co. Clare than has been possible in the past with the two data sets, palaeoenvironmental and archaeological, allowing for the further development of the archaeological narrative of these two prehistoric landscapes.