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This allows secondary deductions about, for example, climate change and human disturbance to the environment.
The technique is flexible, enabling vegetation to be considered at a variety of geographical scales, from regional through to local (Janssen 1973; Jacobson and Bradshaw 1981).
Put simply, it is a method for investigating former vegetation by means of the pollen grains (and spores) that plants produce (Fægri and Iversen 1989; Moore 1991).
These sub-microfossils are typically found preserved in abundance in a wide variety of wet and acidic sedimentary deposits, such as lake muds and peats.
For example, Tipping (2009) have already applied a modelling exercise to reconstruct the possible spatial arrangement of plant communities around a Neolithic ‘timber hall’ in northeast Scotland.
A number of supplementary techniques are commonly applied together with pollen analysis, yet there is little opportunity to go further than pass comment on these here.
Fossil pollen assemblages cannot, as yet, be directly translated into plant abundances, or used to produce maps of vegetation cover except at the broadest (landscape) scales, although research into modelling procedures is advancing in this direction.
One central question that still needs to be addressed is defining exactly where the pollen that accumulates in any sediment has come from.
Middleton and Bunting 2004; Bunting and Middleton 2005), and this approach could provide answers to questions often posed about the past vegetation mosaic and land use in the areas immediately surrounding prehistoric monuments and settlements.
Pollen-based studies which consider the impact of people - and their domestic livestock - on past landscapes may now also include the analysis of coprophilous fungal spores, such as Podospora-type (Hd V-368, pictured here), ©J Schofield.
Oldfield (1993, 16) comments that ‘interpreting palaeoecological data is rarely a matter of unambiguous, objective certainty’.
In cases where several pollen profiles have been studied across a landscape (e.g.
Glen Affric, northern Scotland [Davies and Tipping 2004], and the Bowmont valley, southern Scotland [Tipping 2010]), this can allow spatial reconstructions of the vegetation mosaic, and provide greater confidence in linking cause and effect; anthropogenic impacts on vegetation are often seen as highly variable both spatially and temporally, whereas changes driven by natural factors (e.g. The literature on pollen analysis is vast and extended discussion of this is impossible here.