Pollen Analysis: a technique for investigating early agrarian history

Pollen Analysis: a technique for investigating early agrarian history

Frank, J.W.

Agricultural History Review, Volume 5 part 1 (1957)


The fact that the remains of plants are preserved in deposits laid down under waterlogged conditions has been known since peat deposits have been worked; and amongst the remains so preserved are pollens. Pollen analysis is the study of the pollen content of sedimentary deposits. During the past fifty years it has developed rapidly. The technique is based on the fact that all the higher plants (trees, herbs, and ferns) release pollen and spores into the atmosphere. These pollen grains and spores, being very small, are carried about by air currents and become mixed before settling out of the air. In the process of settling they are known as the ‘pollen rain’, and it is one of the basic assumptions of pollen analysis that the composition of the pollen rain is proportional to the composition of the vegetation from which it is derived. This assumption is not strictly true: the forest trees do not produce equal amounts of pollen, and no satisfactory measure of the inequalities has yet been devised. Furthermore, we do not know exactly how pollens are incorporated and preserved in peats and sediments. Nevertheless, so long as these limitations are borne in mind, it is believed that pollen analysis can tell us something about the history of vegetation.

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