A team of scientists led by the University of Leicester has published new research on a fossilised landscape, providing insights into how an ancient environment functioned.
Thousands of years ago the English Fenlands, stretching across what is now Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and north Norfolk was a gigantic coastal swamp, not quite land and not quite sea, but inhabited by Bronze Age settlers who hunted and fished amid its fertile waters.
Over the last two centuries, it has been utterly transformed: drained, ploughed and converted into England's most productive farmland. The whole area has subsided by up to four metres, so that much is now below sea level. As this has happened, a thick surface layer of peat has wasted away -- revealing the treasures of a 5,000-year-old 'fossilised' landscape beneath.
These scientific treasures include ancient human constructions such as at Flag Fen -- and also spectacular, perfectly fossilized ancient watercourses. These fossil rivers and creeks (known locally as 'roddons') have been the focus of a study by Dinah Smith of the Geology Department of the University of Leicester and her colleagues, which has just been published in the Proceedings of the Geologists' Association.
The 'roddons' seem to be the key to understanding how this enormous, ancient landscape functioned. The strata within them are full of tiny delicate fossils, which give clues to the environment around them. The 'roddons' themselves seem to have come to a sudden, perhaps catastrophic end, choked with sediment swept in from the sea. As generations of 'roddons' successively appeared and disappeared, so the whole landscape transformed around them.
Dinah Smith said: "The Fenland roddons provide an eloquent signal of just how precarious environmental conditions are, at the edge of the sea. As climate and sea level are now set to change, it is knowledge of phenomena like these that will help us understand the world of the future."
- Smith, D.M., Zalasiewicz, J.A., Williams, M., Wilkinson, I.P., Redding, M. and Begg, C. Holocene drainage systems of the English Fenland: roddons and their environmental significance. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 2010; DOI: 10.10106/j.pgeola.2010.06.002
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