Late Quaternary Landscape History of the Swale - Ure Washlands

David Bridgland, Antony Long, 2008 (updated 2011)

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Prof David Bridgland
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David Bridgland, Antony Long (2011) Late Quaternary Landscape History of the Swale - Ure Washlands [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

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Photograph of Masham Cross

The project has studied the fluvial and landscape evolution of the area known as the Swale-Ure Washland and the impact of human activity there from Devensian deglaciation through to the end of the Medieval Period.

The Washland is a low-lying area between the Pennines and the North Yorkshire Moors, drained by the rivers Swale and Ure, in which the long history of human occupation is illustrated by the prominent Thornborough Henges. Extensive sands and gravels in the area have provided resources for the aggregate industry and the basis for the ALSF project, which has been structured around five key sites, four of them gravel quarries (Marfield, Ripon North, Ripon South, Nosterfield) and one and old lake basin (Snape Mires). Also important has been detailed geomorphological mapping, providing the basis for reconstruction of glacial and deglacial history (mapping of drumlins, moraines, meltwater channels, glacial lakes) as well as post-glacial fluvial evolution (mapping of former river channels, terraces). The post-glacial record of landscape evolution has been determined using palaeo-environmental analyses of fossiliferous Holocene sequences from the above-mentioned sites and others, the key techniques used being palynology and, where available, the analysis of plant macrofossils, molluscs, beetles, and vertebrates. Piecing this record together has been aided by >60 radiocarbon dates, supplemented by amino acid (aar) dating of shell material from selected sequences; attempts at dating sand and gravel deposition using OSL proved largely unsuccessful.

The records show progressive human impact on natural vegetation with eventual clear signs of agriculture. The project has provided a much clearer insight into environmental conditions in the area of the Thornborough Henges at the time of their construction and use. The recovery of lengthy pollen records from alluvial sequences spanning the Medieval period is also a significant addition to knowledge.

Users of this archive may like to note that the radiocarbon dates produced by the Swale-Ure project are included in the Archaeological Site Index to Radiocarbon Dates from Great Britain and Ireland resource.

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