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Keywords:

  • intertidal freshwater deposits;
  • machair;
  • Neolithic impact;
  • Skara Brae;
  • Orkney

Abstract

A detailed multidisciplinary investigation of intertidal freshwater sediments exposed in the north of the Bay of Skaill, Mainland Orkney, Scotland, have revealed a complex sedimentary sequence. This provided evidence for dynamic coastal environmental changes in the area since the mid-Holocene. Freshwater ponds developed on glacial sediments ca. 6550 ± 80 yr BP (cal. bc 5590–5305). From ca. 6120 ± 70 yr BP (cal. bc 5040–4855), these were infilled by blown sand from the distal edge of a dune ridge located to the west. Thereafter, a series of sand-blow events alternating with periods of quiescence occurred until ca. 4410 ± 60 yr BP (cal. bc 3325–2900). Between ca. 5240 ± 160 and 4660 ± 80 yr BP (cal. bc 4370–3115), pollen and charcoal records show evidence of anthropogenic activities, associated with the nearby Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae. Agriculture was probably affected by recurrent sand movement and widespread deposition of calcium carbonate in the hinterland of the bay. Machair development between ca. 6100 and 5000 yr BP (cal. bc 5235–3540) corresponds to a mid-Holocene phase of dune formation recorded elsewhere in northwest Europe. The more recent and progressive formation of the bay has probably been related to increasing external forcing via storminess, long-term relative sea-level change and sediment starvation within this exposed environment. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.