The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is celebrating the award of Best Research Poster to PhD student Jasmijn Sybenga at the Association for Environmental Archaeology Conference held in Edinburgh in December 2017.
Jasmijn started her PhD in February 2016 after finishing both undergraduate and graduate degree at Leiden University, the Netherlands. She grew up in the east of the Netherlands which is – in contrast to what many people would expect from the Netherlands – hilly and contains woodland.
“I’ve always been interested in the development of woodlands and how people would have managed and used woodlands in the past, ” Jasmijn explained.
“The topic of my PhD is therefore related to my interests and after a successful application I moved to beautiful Orkney, where the only thing that I sometimes miss are the trees!”
Jasmijn’s research poster was entitled Investigating the feasibility of reinstating the natural woodland of the Highlands by using long-term palaeological records and will contribute to Scottish Forestry Commission reinstatement policy for the natural woodland of the Scottish Highlands.
The conference’s theme was the Grand Challenge Agenda in Environmental Archaeology and focused on investigating the dynamics of complex socio-ecological systems, demography, mobility, identity, resilience, and human-environment interactions.
The full AEA conference abstract reads: “Environmental archaeology is ideally situated to contribute directly to these challenges, concerned, as it is,with the human ecology of the past – the relationship between past human populations and their physical,biological and socio-economic environments – through the analysis and interpretation of animal and plant remains within the depositional environment of the archaeological site and its surrounds.”
Jasmijn continued: “Areas of peatland in the Scottish Highlands have been afforested since the Scottish Forestry Commission (SFC) was established in 1919.
“During the 1980s and the early 1990s these upland areas have been extensively covered with non-native conifer plantations which drastically aﬀected the landscape and present ecosystems. Over the last few years, plantations have started to be felled in order to reinstate peatland.”
The SFC, which maintains most of the afforested peatland, is keen on developing policies on the reinstatement of the “natural woodland” of the Scottish Highlands.
Areas of peatland within the Highlands can contain signiﬁcant depths of peat – more than five metres – that have accumulated over thousands of years. The anaerobic conditions of the peat create suitable conditions for the preservation of pollen grains, plant macrofossils and non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs) which can inform on long-term vegetation patterns and climate change cycles.
This is of particularly relevance to modern ecology where studies tend to be relatively short-term in comparison and therefore we can use these records to inform on much longer trends for example vegetation changes in response to human impact or changing climate.
Jasmihn’s PhD project will use palaeoecological data from three peatland areas under the care of the SFC to create long-term vegetation records with particular attention on former native woodland. The aim is to understand what these woodlands would have looked like, what caused the demise of these woodlands and whether, if planted today, these woodlands would thrive or demise in the present conditions of these Highland areas.
This information will have implications for future conservation strategies in the Highlands and potentially across Scotland.
Jasmijn’s PhD title is Seeing the Wood for the Trees. A Palaeological Approach into the Research of Past Natural Woodland in the Scottish Highlands. The research is funded by the Scottish Forestry Commission. PhD supervisors are Scott Timpany, Roxane Andersen and Melanie Smith. You can contact the Association for Environmental Archaeology through their website.