2003 Seattle Annual Meeting (November 2–5, 2003)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 2:30 PM


STILES, Cynthia A., Soil Science, Univ of Wisconsin - Madison, 1525 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706-1299 and ROBERTSON, Gordon, Geography, Univ of Wisconsin - Madison, 550 N Park St, Madison, WI 53706-1491, castiles@wisc.edu

Human occupation and land use in rugged areas is often dictated by topography, bedrock and glacial geology, and microclimatology. Evidence of prehistoric patterns of agriculture in northwestern Europe has been largely obliterated by more recent constructs, but wild regions of western Scotland hold remarkably preserved evidence of past human activities. The Knoydart Peninsula of western Scotland is a sparsely populated, remote area of heath-covered hills comprised primarily of Moinian pelitic and micaceous schists and psammites/semi-pelites. Slope topography is steep and rocky, with few low-lying areas suitable for long-term sustainable settlement. The climate is tempered by moderate ocean currents, which bring frequent rain and mist and limit direct sunlight. Natural fertility of the soil is low and agriculture could only be accomplished through alteration of the natural landscape and addition of nutrients.

Using historic land surveys, several agrarian use areas were visually identified along the coastal reaches of Knoydart. The microtopographic patterns on this landscape are quite striking. Land areas modified by subsistence communities consisted of sets of 2-3 m wide, 20-27 m long and 0.5 m high raised beds in three general areas on the landscape: 1) low relief coastal toeslope, 2) moderate relief footslope, and 3) high relief backslope. Most extensive sets (up to 5 x 104 m2) occurred in the low to moderate relief areas, where amendments such as cattle manure, seaweed, and shell sand could most easily be transported to the fields. Beds were oriented parallel to slope on the toe- and foot-slopes, but tended to be smaller (250-500 m2) and oriented orthogonal to slope in the high relief areas. Backslope sets also appeared to be less developed, suggesting limited use. The largest field areas occurred preferentially in areas of micaceous schist bedrock and in the limited areas of glacial deposits, where thicker soils would naturally form. Buried organically enriched horizons representing the original soil surfaces within the beds were found at 30 – 40 cm depth. Extensive soil samples across these anthropogenically-altered landscapes will be assessed for soil biogeochemical indicators in effort to clarify the history of this once active and well-preserved human landscape.