E-monograph Series. No. 20

Quaternary pollen analysis in the Iberian Peninsula: the value of negative results

J.S. Carrión1, S. Fernández1, P. González-Sampériz2, S.A.G. Leroy3, G.N. Bailey4, J.A. López-Sáez5, F. Burjachs6-7, G. Gil-Romera8, M. García-Antón9, M.J. Gil-García10, I. Parra11, L. Santos12, P. López-García5, E.I. Yll 6, M. Dupré13

1 Departamento de Biología Vegetal, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de Murcia, E-30100 Murcia, Spain. Email: carrion@um.es, Phone and Fax: (34) 968 364995
2 Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología-CSIC, Avenida Montañana 1005, E-50059 Zaragoza, Spain
3 Institute for the Environment, Brunel University, Uxbridge (West London), Middlesex UB8 3PH, United Kingdom
4 Department of Archaeology, University of York, The King's Manor, York, Y01 7EP, United Kingdom
5 Grupo de Investigación Arqueobiología, Instituto de Historia, CCHS, CSIC, Albasanz 26-28, 28037 Madrid, Spain
6 Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA). Passeig Lluís Companys 23, E-08010 Barcelona, Spain
7 Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES). Àrea de Prehistòria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Plaça Imperial Tarraco 1, E-43005 Tarragona, Spain
8 Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Wales, SY23 3DB Aberystwyth, United Kingdom
9 Faculty of Sciences, Autonomous University of Madrid, E-28049 Cantoblanco, Madrid, Spain
10 Department of Geology, University of Alcalá, E-28871 Madrid, Spain
11 Observatorio Impactos Climáticos del Levante almeriense, OBAL LEAL, Garrucha, Spain
12 Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Sciences, Campus da Zapateira s/n, University of Coruña, E-15071, A Coruña (Spain)
13 Department of General Geography, Faculty of Geography and History, University of Valencia, Spain

Cite this as: Carrión, J.S., Fernández, S., González-Sampériz, P., Leroy, S.A.G., Bailey, G.N., López-Sáez, J.A., Burjachs, F., Gil-Romera, G., García-Antón, M., Gil-García, M.J., Parra, I., Santos, L., López-García, P., Yll, E.I. and Dupré, M. 2009 Quaternary pollen analysis in the Iberian Peninsula: the value of negative results, Internet Archaeology 25. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.25.5


Most unsuccessful palynological work is never published. As a consequence, pollen analysts waste time re-processing sterile sediments, and the available literature exhibits a uniformly positive record of success in pollen extraction. Here we report failures with Quaternary pollen analyses in the Iberian Peninsula; that is, case studies where it was not possible to extract palynomorphs for pollen counting. Both totally sterile and partially sterile sites are considered. Sites and perspectives for future studies are suggested. The majority of the failed studies are open-air archaeological and palaeontological sites, caves and rockshelters, but there are prominent cases of success. Peat bogs have provided positive results, but only with sequences formed under continuous sedimentation processes in marshy environments. Lakes are often successful sites, but a multi-core strategy, following the facies change along a transect from the shore to the depositional centre, is recommended for saline lacustrine deposits, salt marshes and lagoons, especially when there is evidence of temporary desiccation. Cave and rockshelter infills should be considered case-by-case, and these sites definitely require a palyno-taphonomical approach to post-depositional processes. Indurated deposits are sometimes surprising in their high pollen concentration, but one must be prepared for sterility. Coprolites have been insufficiently exploited, and offer a great potential, especially those of Pleistocene Crocuta. This article shows that venturing into sediments assumed a priori to be 'difficult', like fluvial terraces, slope deposits, speleothems, cave travertines, and palaeosols, may nevertheless be successful. A summary is proposed of the various factors causing sterility, before, during and after sedimentation.

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Last updated: Mon Feb 23 2009