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The Holocene: An Environmental History, 3rd Edition

Neil Roberts

ISBN: 978-1-405-15521-2 February 2014 Wiley-Blackwell 376 Pages


The Holocene provides students, researchers and lay-readers with the remarkable story of how the natural world has been transformed since the end of the last Ice Age around 15,000 years ago.  This period has witnessed a shift from environmental changes determined by natural forces to those dominated by human actions, including those of climate and greenhouse gases. Understanding the environmental changes - both natural and anthropogenic - that have occurred during the Holocene is of crucial importance if we are to achieve a sustainable environmental future.

Revised and updated to take full account of the most recent advances, the third edition of this classic text includes substantial material on the scientific methods that are used to reconstruct and date past environments, as well as new concepts such as the Anthropocene. The book is fully-illustrated, global in coverage, and contains case studies, a glossary and more than 500 new references.

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Technical boxes viii

Preface to the third edition ix

Acknowledgements xi

About the companion website xii

1 Introduction 1

Sources of information on past environments 2

Nature and society 5

The significance of the Holocene 6

References 7

2 Reconstructing Holocene environments 10

Dating the past 10

Historical and archaeological dating 11

Radiometric dating methods 13

Dendrochronology and radiocarbon calibration 19

Other dating methods 25

Conclusion 28

Palaeoecological techniques 32

Pollen analysis 33

Plant remains 40

Creatures great and small 44

Freshwater and marine organisms 46

Geological techniques 47

Ice and ocean 51

Stable isotope analysis 53

Geomorphology and climate 55

Geo-archaeology 59

Modelling the past 61

Models of environmental reconstruction 61

Computer model simulations 64

Conclusion 66

References 66

3 The Pleistocene prelude (>11 700 Cal. yr bp) 83

Ice Age environments 83

The glacial–interglacial cycle 83

Understanding the causes of long-term climatic change 88

The Last Glacial Maximum and after 92

The terminal Pleistocene (15 000–11 700 Cal. yr bp) 96

The Late Glacial in the North Atlantic region 96

Terminal Pleistocene climatic oscillation: a globally synchronous event? 102

Adjustment of geomorphic systems 105

Human ecology at the end of the Pleistocene 107

Megafaunal extinctions 110

References 115

4 Early Holocene adaptations (11 700–6000 Cal. yr bp) 128

Changes in the physical environment 128

Ice sheets and sea levels 128

Human adaptations to coastal environments 131

Lake ontogeny and soil development 135

The return of the forests 140

Europe 140

Eastern North America 142

Dry Mediterranean woodland 144

Tropical forests 145

Factors affecting forest re-advance 146

The ecology of Mesolithic Europe 151

The early Holocene in the tropics 154

Saharan palaeoecology 155

Early Holocene climates: Pattern and process 158

Conclusion 165

References 167

5 The first farmers 178

Agricultural origins 178

Southwest Asia 179

China and South Asia 184

Mesoamerica 186

Tropical domesticates 190

Independent innovation or diffusion? 193

The role of environmental change in early agriculture 194

Early agricultural impacts 199

European agricultural dispersals 201

Ecological consequences of early European agriculture 204

Conclusion 207

References 208

6 The taming of nature (6000–1000 Cal. yr bp) 217

Introduction 217

Changes in the natural environment 219

Climate and vegetation 219

The origin and development of blanket mires 228

Coasts and rivers 232

Cultural evolution 235

Hydraulic civilisation in Mesopotamia 236

Environmental impact in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica 239

Pastoral nomadism 241

Mediterranean ecosystems 242

The making of the landscape: The British Isles 249

The primaeval forest 250

Shaugh Moor – a Bronze Age landscape 254

The environmental impact of permanent agricultural clearance 256

Conclusion 261

References 262

7 The impact of modern times (1000–0 Cal. yr bp) 277

Introduction 277

Climatic changes in historical times 280

Climate history and global warming 282

Consequences of medieval and Little Ice Age climate change 288

Expansion at the periphery 291

Conquest of the Northlands 291

The Pacific 295

Ecological imperialism 300

Land-use history and soil erosion 303

Pollution histories 312

Eutrophication: natural or cultural? 312

Acidification and atmospheric pollution 318

References 323

8 The environmental future: A Holocene perspective 336

Holocene environmental crises 340

Environmental conservation and Holocene Environmental history 343

References 347

Appendix: Calibration table for radiocarbon ages 352

Glossary 353

Index 358

“In conclusion, we find the new edition highly recommendable to students and researchers but to those who are interested in how our modern envi­ronment came about and how human kind interacts with nature.”  (Geologos Journal, 1 August 2015)

“All the sections are very well referenced, making this a good book for serious research or to dip into a particular area of interest to the reader. For a reference work it is surprisingly easy to just sit and read, which I did, and found it interesting through to the last page. I particularly liked the way a wide range of ideas and disciplines were brought together to form a coherent thread throughout the book.”  (Proceedings of the Open University Geological Society, 1 April 2015)

“The text makes enjoyable reading, and although the author introduces many technical terms, they are all covered in a glossary at the end and included in the index.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.  Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers.”   (Choice, 1 October 2014)

“This excellent book should be mandatory reading for any student taking a palaeobased environmental change module, and academics will also very much enjoy reading Neil Roberts’ fine prose.”  (The Holocene, 1 October 2014)