Climate change and human settlement as drivers of late-Holocene vegetational change in the Faroe Islands
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Changes in Faroese land surfaces during the late Holocene reflect intimate interactions between cultural and environmental development. Analyses of fossil wood, pollen and plant macrofossils indicate that the present open landscape replaced shrubby vegetation that was present from c. 6000 BC Up to c. AD 660. Conditions altered during the late Holocene, with loss of woody vegetation and increasing erosion: trends that were initiated prior to human settlement. AMS dating of sub-fossil Betula, Salix and Juniperus found buried in peat profiles from the islands of Suouroy, Sandoy, Eysturoy, Vagar and Streymoy, revealed that the islands had at least partial woody vegetation cover up to the time of continuous settlement. The settlement horizon, identified in a lacustrine sequence on the island of Eysturoy, dated to c. AD 570. It comprised pollen evidence for the cultivation of Hordeum, cultural macrofossil assemblages, charcoal fragments, diatom assemblage changes indicating lake nutrient enrichment and physical measurements showing increased sedimentation rates. The pollen record showed that heathland development was initiated prior to anthropogenic impact. The ecosystem impacts of settlement were therefore superimposed on landscape changes that began around AD 250. The earlier changes were most likely forced by increased storminess and declining atmospheric temperatures.