The Holocene: An Environmental History


The Holocene provides students, researchers and lay-readers with the remarkable story of how the natural world has been transformed since the end of the last Ice Age around 15,000 years ago. This period has witnessed a shift from environmental changes determined by natural forces to those dominated by human actions, including those of climate and greenhouse gases. Understanding the environmental changes - both natural and anthropogenic - that have occurred during the Holocene is of crucial importance if we are to...

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The Holocene provides students, researchers and lay-readers with the remarkable story of how the natural world has been transformed since the end of the last Ice Age around 15,000 years ago. This period has witnessed a shift from environmental changes determined by natural forces to those dominated by human actions, including those of climate and greenhouse gases. Understanding the environmental changes - both natural and anthropogenic - that have occurred during the Holocene is of crucial importance if we are to achieve a sustainable environmental future.

Revised and updated to take full account of the most recent advances, the third edition of this classic text includes substantial material on the scientific methods that are used to reconstruct and date past environments, as well as new concepts such as the Anthropocene. The book is fully-illustrated, global in coverage, and contains case studies, a glossary and more than 500 new references.

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Editorial Reviews

Draws on both the natural and human sciences. Written for undergraduate students in geography, archaeology, environmental science and ecology. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
From the Publisher
"By comprehensively covering the interaction between the human and natural environment over the last 11,500 years, Neil Roberts has provided a stimulating and entertaining overview of an important topic which will prove useful to the lay-person as well as the experienced geographer. This is a book that is not only technically good, it is also extremely readable. I thoroughly recommend it, not only to those with a special interest in the Quaternary, but to all with a general interest in either natural science or human history." James Shulmeister, Victoria University of Wellington

"Neil Roberts' book on the Holocene is already a classic. All the additions and changes of the second edition may be sumarized as positive improvements to what was already an excellent book. Most importantly, the science has been updated without changing its distinctive character. At the same time, the book has been brightened up, which makes it all the more attractive to handle and read. More power to Neil Roberts' already considerable elbow as he takes up the Chair in Physical Geography at the University of Plymouth!" John Matthews, The Holocene

"Roberts, by background a geographer, has obviously immersed himself in the other disciplines, and he has turned out a wonderful and very up-to-date synthesis of the present state of knowledge about the history of the Holocene. Although this is the second edition. It is in many places a complete rewrite of the original, integrating most of the new discoveries and reinterpretations in this field. One of the surprising pleasures is that the author combines excellent scholarship with a very enjoyable writing style. For those who wish to learn more, the 48-page bibliography is a comprehensive source to the relevant primary literature. Highly recommended to general readers and students and scholars at all levels." C. W. Dimmick, Central Connecticut State University

"Here is a book at once erudite and understandable (there is a helpful glossary, a thorough bibliography and an appendix concerning radiocarbon ages), necessary reading for students, and those with an interest in our hapless history." Ecology

"As a readable and attractive introduction suitable for non-specialists, illustrated with a good selection of colour photographs and some excellent diagrams and maps, The Holocene should attract a wide readership." Danny Yee, University of Sydney

"This text, now as a second edition, is without doubt one of the finest efforts to comprehensively examine the earth's changing surface over the past 15,000 years. Above all what is learned from The Holoceneis that change frequently is revolutionary not evolutionary. The 10,000-year perspective provides stimulating and fascinating reading for all environmental professionals." Constantine N. Raphael, Eastern Michigan University

"With its global coverage, The Holocene provides an excellent introduction to the late Quaternary. I have used the new edition, and previously the first edition, to launch an upper-level seminar in paleoecology and paleoclimatology. The students enjoy the broad overview that it gives with abundant mention of human activities. With over 900 references of which a third are from the 1990s, the book gives readers a good sense of the vast literature available; and, with further updating from GeoRef and other on-line sources, readers can investigate research topics with a sense of the many issues involved."Thompson Webb III, Brown University

"The first edition was comprehensive and well received, and this edition builds on that basis, employing many of these recent advances to refine and expand the picture Roberts painted in the first edition." Peter Gell, University of Adelaide

"The attraction of the book lies in its geographical scope and the reader is treated to well illustrated examples from the Near East, North and Meso America, and South East Asia, drawing upon the author's research experience. His enthusiasm for his subject is conveyed in a lucid and lively text and in his catholic interests." Scottish Geographical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781405155212
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 2/17/2014
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 869,333
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Neil Roberts is Professor of Geography at Plymouth University in the UK and has been Visiting Senior Researcher at Stanford University, CA. His main research interests are in Holocene environmental change, especially lake sediment records of climate and human impact in Mediterranean regions. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and served on the US National Academies Committee on climate changes of the last 2,000 Years.

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Table of Contents

Technical boxes viii

Preface to the third edition ix

Acknowledgements xi

About the companion website xii

1 Introduction 1

Sources of information on past environments 2

Nature and society 5

The significance of the Holocene 6

References 7

2 Reconstructing Holocene environments 10

Dating the past 10

Historical and archaeological dating 11

Radiometric dating methods 13

Dendrochronology and radiocarbon calibration 19

Other dating methods 25

Conclusion 28

Palaeoecological techniques 32

Pollen analysis 33

Plant remains 40

Creatures great and small 44

Freshwater and marine organisms 46

Geological techniques 47

Ice and ocean 51

Stable isotope analysis 53

Geomorphology and climate 55

Geo-archaeology 59

Modelling the past 61

Models of environmental reconstruction 61

Computer model simulations 64

Conclusion 66

References 66

3 The Pleistocene prelude (>11 700 Cal. yr bp) 83

Ice Age environments 83

The glacial–interglacial cycle 83

Understanding the causes of long-term climatic change 88

The Last Glacial Maximum and after 92

The terminal Pleistocene (15 000–11 700 Cal. yr bp) 96

The Late Glacial in the North Atlantic region 96

Terminal Pleistocene climatic oscillation: a globally synchronous event? 102

Adjustment of geomorphic systems 105

Human ecology at the end of the Pleistocene 107

Megafaunal extinctions 110

References 115

4 Early Holocene adaptations (11 700–6000 Cal. yr bp) 128

Changes in the physical environment 128

Ice sheets and sea levels 128

Human adaptations to coastal environments 131

Lake ontogeny and soil development 135

The return of the forests 140

Europe 140

Eastern North America 142

Dry Mediterranean woodland 144

Tropical forests 145

Factors affecting forest re-advance 146

The ecology of Mesolithic Europe 151

The early Holocene in the tropics 154

Saharan palaeoecology 155

Early Holocene climates: Pattern and process 158

Conclusion 165

References 167

5 The first farmers 178

Agricultural origins 178

Southwest Asia 179

China and South Asia 184

Mesoamerica 186

Tropical domesticates 190

Independent innovation or diffusion? 193

The role of environmental change in early agriculture 194

Early agricultural impacts 199

European agricultural dispersals 201

Ecological consequences of early European agriculture 204

Conclusion 207

References 208

6 The taming of nature (6000–1000 Cal. yr bp) 217

Introduction 217

Changes in the natural environment 219

Climate and vegetation 219

The origin and development of blanket mires 228

Coasts and rivers 232

Cultural evolution 235

Hydraulic civilisation in Mesopotamia 236

Environmental impact in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica 239

Pastoral nomadism 241

Mediterranean ecosystems 242

The making of the landscape: The British Isles 249

The primaeval forest 250

Shaugh Moor – a Bronze Age landscape 254

The environmental impact of permanent agricultural clearance 256

Conclusion 261

References 262

7 The impact of modern times (1000–0 Cal. yr bp) 277

Introduction 277

Climatic changes in historical times 280

Climate history and global warming 282

Consequences of medieval and Little Ice Age climate change 288

Expansion at the periphery 291

Conquest of the Northlands 291

The Pacific 295

Ecological imperialism 300

Land-use history and soil erosion 303

Pollution histories 312

Eutrophication: natural or cultural? 312

Acidification and atmospheric pollution 318

References 323

8 The environmental future: A Holocene perspective 336

Holocene environmental crises 340

Environmental conservation and Holocene Environmental history 343

References 347

Appendix: Calibration table for radiocarbon ages 352

Glossary 353

Index 358

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