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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • archaeology;
  • palaeoecology;
  • teleconnections;
  • 2650 BP

Abstract

A sudden and sharp rise in the 14C content of the atmosphere, which occurred between ca. 850 and 760 calendar yr BC (ca. 2750–2450 BP on the radiocarbon time-scale), was contemporaneous with an abrupt climate change. In northwest Europe (as indicated by palaeoecological and geological evidence) climate changed from relatively warm and continental to oceanic. As a consequence, the ground-water table rose considerably in certain low-lying areas in The Netherlands. Archaeological and palaeoecological evidence for the abandonment of such areas in the northern Netherlands is interpreted as the effect of a rise of the water table and the extension of fens and bogs. Contraction of population and finally migration from these low-lying areas, which had become marginal for occupation, and the earliest colonisation by farming communities of the newly emerged salt marshes in the northern Netherlands around 2550 BP, is interpreted as the consequence of loss of cultivated land. Thermic contraction of ocean water and/or decreased velocity and pressure on the coast by the Gulf Stream may have caused a fall in relative sea-level rise and the emergence of these salt marshes. Evidence for a synchronous climatic change elsewhere in Europe and on other continents around 2650 BP is presented. Temporary aridity in tropical regions and a reduced transport of warmth to the temperate climate regions by atmospheric and/or oceanic circulation systems could explain the observed changes. As yet there is no clear explanation for this climate change and the contemporaneous increase of 14C in the atmosphere. The strategy of 14C wiggle-match dating can play an important role in the precise dating of organic deposits, and can be used to establish possible relationships between changing 14C production in the atmosphere, climate change, and the impact of such changes on hydrology, vegetation, and human communities.