Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Research Article

Peat initiation in the Faroe Islands: climate change, pedogenesis or human impact?

Ian T. Lawsona1, Mike J. Churcha2, Kevin J. Edwardsa3, Gordon T. Cooka4 and Andrew J. Dugmorea5

a1 Earth and Biosphere Institute, School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK

a2 Department of Archaeology, Durham University, South Road, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK

a3 Departments of Geography & Environment and Archaeology, University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen, AB24 3UF, UK

a4 Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, Scottish Enterprise Technology Park, East Kilbride, G75 0QF, UK

a5 Institute of Geography, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9XP, UK


As an isolated island group lying off the NW European mainland which was uninhabited until the mid-first millennium AD, the Faroes offer a unique opportunity to study natural processes of Holocene ecosystem development in a region where anthropogenic activity is usually a complicating factor. In this paper new radiocarbon dates and pollen-analytical data from the island of Sandoy, in the centre of the Faroes archipelago, are presented. Together with existing pollen and plant macrofossil records, these data allow a reconstruction of patterns of Holocene vegetational and edaphic change. Basal peat dates indicate that large areas of blanket mire were established long before the first human settlement, demonstrating conclusively that human impact is not necessary for the development of such ecosystems. The timing of the initiation of the blanket peats varies markedly, both across the Faroes as a whole and at a landscape scale, with dates distributed evenly over 9000 years. This suggests that, in the Faroes at least, pedogenesis was more important than climatic change in determining the timing of the spread of blanket peat systems.

Key Words:

  • blanket peat;
  • Holocene;
  • Norse;
  • pollen;
  • radiocarbon