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Holocene vegetation dynamics in the Campine coversand area (Liereman, N Belgium) in relation to its human occupation

Verbruggen, Frederike, Bourgeois, Ignace, Cruz, Frédéric, Boudin, Mathieu, Crombé, Philippe
Review of palaeobotany and palynology 2019 v.260 pp. 27-37
Betula, Pinus, coniferous forests, deforestation, food plants, freshwater, grasslands, humans, microfossils, paleoecology, peat, pollen, society, spores, water table, woodlands, Belgium
Palaeoecological studies in coversand areas are sparse as organic remains generally do not preserve well in sandy deposits. An AMS-dated Holocene peat sequence in a palaeochannel in a natural depression (the Liereman), flanked by coversand ridges proved to be an exceptional and valuable archive of long-term vegetation dynamics in the Campine (N Belgium). Analyses of microfossils, such as pollen, spores and non-pollen palynomorphs, as well as macrofossils of plants and other organisms have given insight in the vegetation dynamics over the past 11,500 years. Grasslands developed during the Rammelbeek phase of the Preboreal at the expense of the birch woodlands that characterized the Friesland phase of the Preboreal. During the Preboreal the depression was ecologically diverse with abundant resources for human subsistence, such as permanent fresh water, game and edible plants. However, to date no contemporaneous archaeological sites are known in the area. In the woodlands on the coversand ridges pines became the dominant regional vegetation towards the Boreal. The resulting lowering of ground water levels led to a decrease of the water availability and associated resources for hunter-gatherer societies. Yet, (early) Mesolithic hunter-gatherers settled in the area, however only temporarily. During the Atlantic coniferous forests were succeeded by mixed deciduous woodlands, while the freshwater availability decreased further. This possibly explains the near absence of middle and late Mesolithic sites in the Liereman area. From the Subboreal onward deciduous woodlands opened, probably as a result of human activity. Finally, through deforestation the area in and around the Liereman depression was partly cleared for agricultural purposes during the Subatlantic.