Iron Age Palaeoenvironments of NW Scotland


AOC is pleased to be sponsoring and co-supervising a ground-breaking study into the prehistoric environments of north west Scotland, in partnership with University of Newcastle and the British Geological Survey. PhD candidate Louisa Matthews oulines the design and aims of her CASE studentship:

Biological and chemical materials extracted from lake sediment cores can be used to reconstruct past environmental conditions and detect human influence on landscapes and vegetation. Each evidence type (e.g., pollen grains, seeds and other plant remains, specific molecules, sediment geochemistry) can be a proxy for certain conditions, and when used together, these proxies can build up a detailed picture of conditions thousands of years ago.

The project will use a multi-proxy analysis of sediment cores taken from adjacent three Iron Age sites in the Assynt area of Northwest Scotland and ask:

  • What changes in local landscape and vegetation resulted from Iron Age settlements?
  • Were the three sites in use during the same period and how did they differ in the intensity and longevity of use?
  • Can the evidence tell us anything about how animals were reared and used?

The palaeoenvironmental evidence will be compared with data recovered from recent archaeological investigations of Clachtoll Broch and Loch na Claise Crannog by AOC Archaeology.

Answers to the questions above can tell us about the nature of the Iron Age economy and its impact on the landscape of Scotland. For example, does the evidence support arguments for intensive ‘garden’ agriculture and on-site animal rearing, or ‘extensive’ shifting cultivation and off-site animal rearing? What are the long-term impacts of human activities on the loch ecosystem and surrounding landscape?

Details about fieldwork and the laboratory techniques used to analyse material will be posted on the Clachtoll blog as the project progresses.




The project is funded by the IAPETUS Doctoral Training Partnership with contribution from AOC Archaeology

Supervisory Team:

Maarten van Hardenbroek, Andrew Henderson, Helen Mackay, Newcastle University

Melanie Leng, British Geological Survey

Graeme Cavers, AOC Archaeology Group