Local-scale environmental gradients in ‘snail-shell’ stable isotopes from Holocene Jordanian archaeological sites

Holly Jenkins, Julian Andrews, Yorke M. Rowan, Alexander Wasse, Tom White, Graham Philip, Alina Marca, Joanne Clarke

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Reconstructing environments around archaeological sites is complicated by past land management practices and regional-scale climate proxies that can be contradictory and are often located at a distance from the sites themselves. Here we explore environmental information from fossil snail shells which, even when few in number on an archaeological site, may prove invaluable in constructing site-specific data. The palaeoecology of fossil snails and the stable isotopic composition of their shell carbonate can provide context-specific information on vegetation, water availability, and relative humidity during the occupation of a site. We studied terrestrial and aquatic snails from two later Neolithic archaeological sites in the Jordanian badia, Wadi al-Qattafi and Wisad Pools. At specific archaeological site-scale our study highlights the importance of aquatic snails in the reconstruction of semi-arid environments. At Wisad pools rare aquatic snails in contexts dating between ~8.0 and ~7.6 ka demonstrate episodes of wetness; moreover, their shell isotopic compositions indicate that local watercourses were well established, corroborating previous findings that during this period the immediate environs of Wisad Pools were host to C3 plant species more typical of the Mediterranean zone. Moreover, the δ18O signal in these snail shells allow tentative reconstruction of rainwater isotopic compositions and identify the effects of evaporation. Such fine-grained environmental information is much less evident from the terrestrial snail shell data alone, showing that an ensemble of snail shell data can be highly sensitive to environmental differentials
across an archaeological site. Finally, at a regional palaeoclimate-scale our Wisad Pools snail shell stable isotope data are consistent with a sustained, Rapid Climate Change (RCC)-driven wetness between 8.6 and 7.6 ka concurrent with cold and wet conditions in the wider Levant.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-266
Number of pages12
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number3
Early online date21 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

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