An Assessment of the Impact of Trees upon Archaeology Within a Relict Wetland

Margaret Cox, C. Earwood, E.B.G. Jones, J. Jones, V. Straker, M. Robinson, Mark Tibbett, S. West

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    An evaluation of a surviving stretch of the Abbot's Way, in the Somerset Levels and Moors, was undertaken to assess the consequences of the previous management regime and inform future management of the site. The scheduled site appeared to have been dewatered and desiccated as a consequence of tree planting and the effects of a deep, adjacent drainage ditch during the previous decade. The evaluation considered the condition of the Neolithic timbers and associated palaeoenvironmental record from three trenches and, where possible, compared the results with those obtained form the 1974 excavation (Girling, 1976). The results of this analysis suggest that the hydrological consequences of tree planting and colonization had a detrimental effect on both the condition of the timbers and insect remains. However, pollen and plant macro-fossils survived well although there was modern contamination. A trench opened outside the scheduled area. where the ground was waterlogged and supported a wet acid grassland flora, revealed similar problems of survival and condition. This almost certainly reflects a period of peat extraction and an associated seasonally fluctuating water table in the 1950s and 1960s; in fact pollen survived better in the scheduled dewatered area. These results are compared with those recovered from the Sweet Track which was evaluated in 1996. Both sites have been subject to recent tree growth but the Sweet Track has been positively managed in terms of hydrology. The most notable difference between the two sites is that insects and wood survived better at the Sweet Track sites than at the Abbot's Way. Insects seem to be a more sensitive indicator of site desiccation than plant remains. It is recommended that any programme of management of wetland for archaeology should avoid deliberate tree planting and natural scrub and woodland generation. It should also take into account past as well as present land use.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1069-1084
    JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
    Publication statusPublished - 2001


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