Archaeologists Use Hazelnuts to Reconstruct Ancient Woodlands

London: Scientists have developed a novel technique using hazelnut shells to unveil ancient landscapes surrounding archaeological sites.

Led by Dr. Amy Styring from the University of Oxford, the study published in Frontiers in Environmental Archaeology reveals how hazelnut shells provide insights into the environment’s past state and human impact.

Through carbon analysis of hazelnuts from various Swedish archaeological sites spanning the Mesolithic to the Iron Age, researchers observed a shift towards more open habitats over time.

Dr. Karl Ljung of Lund University explained that hazelnuts were crucial for sustenance and possibly even fuel for ancient communities.

The method relies on carbon isotopes, altered by sunlight and water availability in the surrounding environment. Hazelnuts from open areas exhibit distinct isotopic values, reflecting higher rates of photosynthesis due to increased sunlight exposure.

To validate their findings, scientists collected hazelnuts from trees in varying light conditions and compared their isotopic values with archaeological samples.

Their analysis revealed a transition from closed woodland environments in the Mesolithic to open landscapes by the Iron Age.

This technique offers a direct link between environmental changes and human activities like foraging. By studying hazelnut shells from more sites, researchers hope to refine their understanding of past woodlands and landscapes, aiding in the interpretation of human-environment interactions.

The study underscores the importance of interdisciplinary approaches in archaeology, shedding light on ancient ecosystems while providing insights into modern woodland management practices.

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