We use cookies on this site. By browsing our site you agree to our use of cookies. Close this message Find out more

Home > Geography home > Research > CQR > Vertebrate responses to abrupt environmental Change
More in this section CQR

Vertebrate responses to abrupt environmental Change

Gully Cave in Ebbor Gorge, Somerset, contains a previously unstudied cave fill sequence in an area rich in Palaeolithic and Pleistocene cave sites.  Since 2006, excavations have been led by Danielle Schreve, with Ian Candy and Tom White (University of Oxford), in order to investigate the sediments contained within and to examine evidence for biological responses to abrupt climate change through the fossil vertebrate assemblages present.

The excavations at Gully Cave have exposed the upper part of the cave fill and revealed a red, limestone-rich breccia, capped by a densely cemented carbonate flowstone, in turn overlain by an organic-rich sediment containing numerous fragments of modern wood and recent mammal bone.  The breccia has proved to be spectacularly rich in the remains of Late Pleistocene vertebrates, specifically an extremely abundant small mammal fauna and a diverse range of birds, but with an important large mammal assemblage, including wild horse (Equus ferus), aurochs (Bos primigenius), red deer (Cervus elaphus) and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). The higher level deposits in the cave preserve an important assemblage of clear cold-climate affinities, including reindeer, Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus), Norway lemming (Lemmus lemmus) and steppe pika (Ochotona pusilla). The excavations have now yielded 23 mammalian taxa, at least 7 bird taxa and 19 molluscan taxa, making it the richest terminal Pleistocene faunal site in Britain. 

An extensive programme of radiocarbon dating, supported by the Leverhulme Trust’s Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, has revealed that the cave deposits excavated so far span the early Lateglacial interstadial (Bølling, Greenland Interstadial 1e) to the early Holocene.  Currently, there is no other cave site in Britain that has this level of completeness for this part of the Late Pleistocene, allowing patterns of high-resolution climate change visible in long proxy records such as the Greenland ice cores to be directly compared with a terrestrial sequence and highlighting the impacts of rapid climate change on the vertebrate fauna. 

The work has been undertaken with the permission of the National Trust and Natural England and with financial backing from the latter, from the Quaternary Research Association and chiefly, from the Leverhulme Trust-funded Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project.









Comment on this page

Did you find the information you were looking for? Is there a broken link or content that needs updating? Let us know so we can improve the page.

Note: If you need further information or have a question that cannot be satisfied by this page, please call our switchboard on +44 (0)1784 434455.

This window will close when you submit your comment.

Add Your Feedback