Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The resilience of postglacial hunter-gatherers to abrupt climate change


Understanding the resilience of early societies to climate change is an essential part of exploring the environmental sensitivity of human populations. There is significant interest in the role of abrupt climate events as a driver of early Holocene human activity, but there are very few well-dated records directly compared with local climate archives. Here, we present evidence from the internationally important Mesolithic site of Star Carr showing occupation during the early Holocene, which is directly compared with a high-resolution palaeoclimate record from neighbouring lake beds. We show that—once established—there was intensive human activity at the site for several hundred years when the community was subject to multiple, severe, abrupt climate events that impacted air temperatures, the landscape and the ecosystem of the region. However, these results show that occupation and activity at the site persisted regardless of the environmental stresses experienced by this society. The Star Carr population displayed a high level of resilience to climate change, suggesting that postglacial populations were not necessarily held hostage to the flickering switch of climate change. Instead, we show that local, intrinsic changes in the wetland environment were more significant in determining human activity than the large-scale abrupt early Holocene climate events.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Context for the site.
Fig. 2: An antler headdress/mask from Star Carr.
Fig. 3: Probability distributions of key parameters of archaeological activities at Star Carr.
Fig. 4: Main elements of the occupation of Star Carr against key palaeoenvironmental indicators for Palaeolake Flixton.
Fig. 5: Summary pollen and isotopic results for core B against depth.
Fig. 6: Structure of the climatic shifts for ACE 2 in comparison with other data.


  1. Flohr, P., Fleitmann, D., Matthews, R., Matthews, W. & Black, S. Evidence of resilience to past climate change in Southwest Asia: early farming communities and the 9.2 and 8.2 ka events. Quat. Sci. Rev. 136, 23–39 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. De Pablo, J. F. L. & Jochim, M. A. The impact of the 8,200 cal bp climatic event on human mobility strategies during the Iberian late Mesolithic. J. Anthropol. Res. 66, 39–68 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bicho, N., Umbelino, C., Detry, C. & Pereira, T. The emergence of Muge Mesolithic shell middens in central Portugal and the 8200 cal yr bp cold event. J. Isl. Coast. Archaeol. 5, 86–104 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Biehl, P. F. & Nieuwenhuyse, O. P. Climate and Cultural Change in Prehistoric Europe and the Near East (State Univ. New York Press, Albany, 2016).

  5. Crombé, P. & Robinson, E. Human resilience to Lateglacial climate and environmental change in the Scheldt basin (NW Belgium). Quat. Int. 428, 50–63 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. González-Sampériz, P. et al. Patterns of human occupation during the early Holocene in the central Ebro basin (NE Spain) in response to the 8.2 ka climatic event. Quat. Res. 71, 121–132 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Wicks, K. & Mithen, S. The impact of the abrupt 8.2 ka cold event on the Mesolithic population of western Scotland: a Bayesian chronological analysis using ‘activity events’ as a population proxy. J. Archeol. Sci. 45, 240–269 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Waddington, C. & Wicks, K. Resilience or wipe out? Evaluating the convergent impacts of the 8.2 ka event and Storegga tsunami on the Mesolithic of northeast Britain. J. Archeol. Sci. Rep. 14, 692–714 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Griffiths, S. & Robinson, E. The 8.2 ka bp Holocene climate change event and human population resilience in northwest Atlantic Europe. Quat. Int. 465, 251–257 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Woodman, P. C. in Chronology and Evolution Within the Mesolithic of North-West Europe (eds Crombé, P., Van Strydonck, M., Boudin, M. & Bats, M.) 195–215 (Cambridge Scholars, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2009).

  11. Mayewski, P. et al. Holocene climate variability. Quat. Res. 62, 243–255 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Daley, T. J. et al. The 8200 yr bp cold event in stable isotope records from the North Atlantic region. Glob. Planet Change 79, 288–302 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Contreras, D. A. & Meadows, J. Summed radiocarbon calibrations as a population proxy: a critical evaluation using a realistic simulation approach. J. Archeol. Sci. 52, 591–608 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Edwards, K. J., Langdon, P. G. & Sugden, H. Separating climatic and possible human impacts in the early Holocene: biotic response around the time of the 8200 cal. yr bp event. J. Quat. Sci. 22, 77–84 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Rasmussen, S. O. et al. A stratigraphic framework for abrupt climatic changes during the Last Glacial period based on three synchronized Greenland ice-core records: refining and extending the INTIMATE event stratigraphy. Quat. Sci. Rev. 106, 14–28 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Clark, J. G. D. Excavations at Star Carr: An Early Mesolithic Site at Seamer Near Scarborough, Yorkshire (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1954).

  17. Mellars, P. & Dark, P. Star Carr in Context: New Archaeological and Palaeoecological Investigations at the Early Mesolithic Site of Star Carr, North Yorkshire (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, 1998).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Conneller, C., Milner, N., Taylor, B. & Taylor, M. Substantial settlement in the European early Mesolithic: new research at Star Carr. Antiquity 86, 1004–1020 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Conneller, C., Bayliss, A., Milner, N. & Taylor, B. The resettlement of the British landscape: towards a chronology of early Mesolithic lithic assemblage types. Internet Arch. 42, (2016).

  20. Milner, N., Taylor, B., Conneller, C. & Schadla-Hall, R. T. S tar Carr: Life in Britain After the Ice Age (Council for British Archaeology, 2013).

  21. Palmer, A. P. et al. The evolution of Palaeolake Flixton and the environmental context of Star Carr, NE. Yorkshire: stratigraphy and sedimentology of the Last Glacial–Interglacial Transition (LGIT) lacustrine sequences. Proc. Geol. Assoc. 126, 50–59 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Conneller, C. & Schadla-Hall, R. T. Beyond Star Carr: the Vale of Pickering in the tenth millennium bp. Proc. Prehis. Soc. 69, 85–105 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Little, A. et al. Technological analysis of the world’s earliest shamanic costume: a multi-scalar, experimental study of a red deer headdress from the early Holocene site of Star Carr, North Yorkshire, UK. PLoS ONE 11, e0152136 (2016).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  24. Marshall, J. D. et al. Terrestrial impact of abrupt changes in the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation: early Holocene, UK. Geology 35, 639–642 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Tye, G. J. et al. The δ18O stratigraphy of the Hoxnian lacustrine sequence at Marks Tey, Essex, UK: implications for the climatic structure of MIS 11 in Britain. J. Quat. Sci. 31, 75–92 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Rasmussen, S. O., Vinther, B. M., Clausen, H. B. & Andersen, K. K. Early Holocene climate oscillations recorded in three Greenland ice cores. Quat. Sci. Rev. 26, 1907–1914 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Kobashi, T., Severinghaus, J. P., Brook, E. J., Barnola, J.-M. & Grachev, A. M. Precise timing and characterization of abrupt climate change 8200 years ago from air trapped in polar ice. Quat. Sci. Rev. 26, 1212–1222 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Candy, I. et al. Oxygen isotopic evidence for high-magnitude, abrupt climatic events during the Lateglacial Interstadial in northwest Europe: analysis of a lacustrine sequence from the site of Tirinie, Scottish Highlands. J. Quat. Sci. 31, 607–621 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Candy, I., Stephens, M., Hancock, J. D. R. & Waghorn, R. S. in The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (Developments in Quaternary Science) (eds Ashton, N., Lewis, S. G. & Stringer, C.) 23–37 (Elsevier, Amsterdam, 2011).

  30. Jessen, C. A. et al. Early Maglemosian culture in the Preboreal landscape: archaeology and vegetation from the earliest Mesolithic site in Denmark at Lundby Mose, Sjælland. Quat. Int. 378, 73–87 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Holmes, J. A. et al. Lake isotope records of the 8200-year cooling event in western Ireland: comparison with model simulations. Quat. Sci. Rev. 131, 341–349 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Troels-Smith, J. Characterisation of Unconsolidated Sediments (Reitzels Forlag, Copenhagen, 1955).

  33. Juggins, S. C2 Version 1.7.7 (Newcastle Univ., 2016);

  34. Moore, P. D., Webb, J. A. & Collinson, M. E. Pollen Analysis (Blackwell Scientific, London, 1991).

  35. Grimm, E. C. CONISS: a FORTRAN 77 program for stratigraphically constrained cluster analysis by the method of incremental sum of squares. Comp. Geosci. 13, 13–35 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Brooks, S. J., Langdon, P. G. & Heiri, O. The Identification and Use of Palaearctic Chironomidae Larvae in Palaeoecology (Quaternary Research Association, London, 2007).

  37. Brooks, S. J. & Birks, H. J. B. Chironomid-inferred air temperatures from Late-Glacial and Holocene sites in north-west Europe: progress and problems. Quat. Sci. Rev. 20, 1723–1741 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Darling, W. G. Hydrological factors in the interpretation of stable isotopic proxy data present and past: a European perspective. Quat. Sci. Rev. 23, 743–770 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Dickson C. A. in Studies in the Vegetation History of the British Isles (eds Walker, D. & West, R. G.) 233–254 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1970).

  40. Bronk Ramsey, C., Higham, T. F. G. & Leach, P. Towards high precision AMS: progress and limitations. Radiocarbon 46, 17–24 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Bronk Ramsey, C. Deposition models for chronological. Quat. Sci. Rev. 27, 42–60 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Bronk Ramsey, C. Dealing with outliers and offsets in radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon 51, 1023–1045 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Bronk Ramsey, C. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51, 337–360 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Reimer, P. J. et al. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal bp. Radiocarbon 55, 1869–1887 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  45. Bronk Ramsey, C. et al. Improved age estimates for key Late Quaternary European tephra horizons in the RESET lattice. Quat. Sci. Rev. 118, 18–32 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Milner, N., Conneller, C. & Taylor, B. Star Carr, Volume 2: Studies in Technology, Subsistence and Environment (White Rose Univ. Press, York, in the press).

  47. Dark, P. in Star Carr in Context: New Archaeological and Palaeoecological Investigations at the Early Mesolithic Site of Star Carr, North Yorkshire (eds Mellars, P. & Dark, P.) 11–120 (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, 1998).

  48. Bronk Ramsey, C. OxCal Version 4.3 (2017);

  49. Bedford, A., Jones, R. T., Lang, B., Brooks, S. & Marshall, J. D. A Late-Glacial chironomid record from Hawes Water, northwest England. J. Quat. Sci. 19, 281–290 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank the landowners of Star Carr, English Heritage/Historic England, and Natural England for granting permission to excavate. N.M. received funding for this from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement 283938, British Academy grants SG-44333, SG-47081 and SG-50217, English Heritage/Historic England grants 5536, 6064, 6793 and 6796, and Historic England also contributed directly towards the costs of the radiocarbon dating of the site, Natural Environment Research Council grant NE/I015191/1, and the Vale of Pickering Research Trust. R.S. is supported by an Early Career Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust (ECF-2015-396). A.A. is supported by the Natural Environment Research Council's London Doctoral Training Partnership.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.B., I.C., I.M., P.Lan. and A.P. designed and directed the climate and environmental analysis. S.B. and A.M. analysed the tephra. I.C. directed the carbon and oxygen isotope analyses, which were conducted by L.D., C.D. and R.K. I.M. and A.A. analysed the pollen data. A.P., S.B., I.M., A.A., A.M., I.C. and P.Lin. analysed the lake topography and sediments. B.T. analysed macrofossil data from the site. M.B. and M.T. analysed the archaeological wood and platforms. P.Lan and C.L. analysed the chironomid samples. R.S. carried out the radiocarbon dating. A.B. carried out the Bayesian modelling with assistance from I.M., S.B., A.P., A.A., C.C., B.T., P.Lin. and N.M. N.B. carried out the source proportion mixing modelling. N.M., B.T. and C.C. designed and directed the archaeological excavation. S.B., I.C., A.B., P. Lan. and N.M. led the writing of the paper. All authors contributed to writing the paper, discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Simon Blockley.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary text, figures, tables and references.

Life Sciences Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data

Priors, javascript, OxCal and text files forming the basis for the site chronology and integrated lake record

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Blockley, S., Candy, I., Matthews, I. et al. The resilience of postglacial hunter-gatherers to abrupt climate change. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 810–818 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing