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Investigating climate change

How do we examine climate change in the past? In this article Professor Nicky Milner discusses the work at Star Carr
Climate team coring in the lake sediments at Star Carr using a large piston corer
© University of York
Sediments can also tell us a great deal about the environment and climate change. Although as scientists we have a general record of climate change from records like the Greenland ice cores, it is essential to have a detailed understanding of records from nearby sites which tells us about the regional changes. For humans living in these areas at the time it is the local environment that matters and as archaeologists we are interested in knowing whether people responded to these local changes in climate and environment.
At Star Carr we were lucky enough to work with an expert team of climate and environmental scientists based at Royal Holloway and the University of Southampton. They used a range of drilling equipment to extract cores from metres of peat in what would have been the lake near to Star Carr.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Within these sediments they were able to extract a range of data from plant remains, pollen, chironomids (non-biting midges), oxygen and carbon isotopes, and tephra (volcanic ash) which they used to reconstruct the climate and environmental record over time. From this analysis it was shown that an abrupt climate event occurred at Star Carr during the early part of the occupation.
In the sequence in the column in the video, we can see wood peat at the top ( brown with lighter brown inclusions which are pieces of wood), moving into brown/green reed peat (darker, finer, with plant inclusions and seeds), then moving into transitional muds at the bottom of the lake which are rich in organics (gyttja), and finally a marl at the bottom of the sequence which is the almost mint green in colour.

Further resources

To find out more about how the lake was cored, see Chapter 18. An explanation of what would have happened through time to the lake and the environment is provided in Chapter 4.
© University of York
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Exploring Stone Age Archaeology: The Mysteries of Star Carr

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