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Pleistocene landscape evolution in the Avon valley, southern Britain: optical dating of terrace formation and Palaeolithic archaeology

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journal contribution
posted on 2020-12-14, 15:48 authored by Ella Egberts, Laura Basell, Kate Welham, AG Brown, Philip Toms
This paper presents the first comprehensive Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating programme from a sequence of Pleistocene river terraces in the Avon valley (Wiltshire-Hampshire-Dorset), southern Britain. These results offer the most complete chronometric framework for Pleistocene landscape evolution and Palaeolithic occupation in the Avon valley, allowing for the first time: (1) an assessment of the timing of terrace formation and landscape evolution, (2) the dating of hominin presence in the area, and (3) an investigation of the relationship between terrace formation and Quaternary climatic change. Analysis of 25 samples collected from terraces 10 and 7 to 4 show that the middle Avon terraces formed in response to the main Pleistocene climatic oscillations (Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 10, 8, 6) and that fluvial mechanisms changed through time, resulting in three different types of terrace architecture. The highest and oldest deposits are compound terraces deposited during the Early Pleistocene before the Mid Pleistocene Transition. The middle reach of the valley is characterised by well-developed strath terraces overlain with thick fluvial deposits, reflecting the greater degree of incision in response to the increased amplitude of climate cycles in the Middle Pleistocene. The youngest deposits in the confined modern floodplain represent cut-and-fill terraces deposited after MIS5e. The results indicate that the two main Palaeolithic sites in the area, Milford Hill and Woodgreen, date to between at least MIS 10 and 8 with a pre-MIS 10 human occupation at a third main site at Bemerton. This is significant because the sites date to a period previously associated with a decline in hominin presence in Britain. The dating of the Avon valley terrace sequence highlights the complex nature of terrace formation during the Pleistocene and the need to critically reassess the chronological understanding of these fluvial archives in southern Britain. This research demonstrates that with a detailed and multidisciplinary approach shifts in hominin landscape use can be discovered, providing new information on hominin behavioural change during the Pleistocene.



Proceedings of the Geologists' Association Volume 131, Issue 2, April 2020, Pages 121-137

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School of Geography, Geology and the Environment


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