As UK’s northern wetlands are destroyed organic artefacts and fossils decay

Archaeological experts observing land drainage at Star Carr, Yorkshire, northern United Kingdom, discovered that changes in the soil are quickly degrading cultural artefacts and fossils. The process is putting the rich source of archaeological finds at risk.

Bones losing their hardness (by Science)
Bones losing their hardness (by Science)

The changes in the soil chemistry, such as acidification due to drainage of wetland sites for farming puts the archaeological sources at risk. As the latest research has proven, the destruction of artefacts is more rapid than previously thought. The local land is rich in sulphur, which is a common state in wetland areas. But as the water is lost, oxygen is introduced which results in formation of sulphuric acid. This acid is influencing the organic parts of artefacts, demineralising them. This results for example in turning bone artefacts, so far being hard and compact, into floppy – as the researchers put it – “jellybones“.

Stone Age shamanic antler headdress (by International Business Times)
Stone Age shamanic antler headdress (by International Business Times)

The site at Star Carr is known for hundreds of high-profile archaeological finds, including Stone Age shamanic headdresses made from antlers. It is also home to fossils of animals that could tell us what happened to humans in Britain at the end of the last ice age. The area of the site is constantly waterlogged, providing oxygen-free conditions that preserve the artefacts. But since 2000, when several field drains were introduced near the site, the water-table moved lower, below the level of the ancient remains and the archaeologists now face a race against the acid to uncover and preserve the artefacts.

Excavation at Star Carr (by International Business Times)
Excavation at Star Carr (by International Business Times)

The site is said being not only under risk from these changes but also from pollution and changes in land use, that are happening on an unprecedented scale. This unprecedented study, showing irreversible damage proves that a country-wide project is needed to visit similar sites and assess the effect of drainage on them. Kirsty High, a co-author of the study is planning such project in cooperation with Historic England – results of this research may be crucial for preservation of numerous wetland sites all over the globe.

(after International Business Times & Science)

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