In December 2018 members of the FeedSax team visited Sydlings Copse, a small woodland in Oxfordshire, to obtain cores for pollen analysis. Today, the copse is surrounded by agricultural land, but the woodland was formerly part of Shotover royal hunting forest, mentioned in Domesday Book. It also provides one of very few pollen records with good coverage of the medieval period in Oxfordshire – previous analysis by Petra Dark (as S.P. Day, 1991, 1993) produced a record of vegetation spanning almost 10,000 years. We took new cores in order to increase the resolution of pollen and radiocarbon samples for c. AD 400-1450, to gain a better understanding of the nature of the landscape and the scale and type of land-use.
The palynology team (Mike Charles and Emily Forster) went to Sydlings Copse in early December to explore potential coring locations. We did several transects of an area known to have peat deposits, using a probe to test the depth of sediment/peat – fortunately the ground wasn’t frozen, despite a frosty start to the day! Palynologists usually search for the deepest deposits available as these are likely to cover a longer period of time. For FeedSax we are working on a relatively short time span compared to most pollen studies, but deeper deposits are still valuable as they often have a faster rate of accumulation than shallower sediments, meaning changes over time can be investigated in more detail by sampling at closer intervals.
Having identified two suitable places for coring, we returned later in the month with reinforcements (Tina Roushannafas) and a Russian chamber corer. We took two cores of just under a metre in length, which should be more than enough to capture the medieval period at this site.
Having brought the cores back to the lab, the stratigraphy was described and samples were taken for radiocarbon dating and preliminary pollen analysis. It will take a few months to get the radiocarbon dates to establish the chronology with confidence. However, an initial scan of pollen slides revealed several types associated with farming in what we would expect to be mid- to late Saxon samples (based on the age-depth model for Day, 1991, 1993), including a nice example of Hordeum-type pollen, which could originate from barley.
Day, S.P. (1991) Post-glacial vegetational history of the Oxford region. New Phytologist 119: 445-470
Day, S.P. (1993) Woodland origins and ‘ancient woodland indicators’: a case study from Sidlings Copse, Oxfordshire, UK. The Holocene 3: 45-53