The Late Pleistocene Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus, Linnaeus, 1758) of Britain and Western Europe: Past migrations, Seasonality and Palaeodiet.

Emily Wiesendanger

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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During the last glaciation, reindeer (Rangifer tarandus, Linnaeus, 1758), a highly specialised cold adapted ungulate, was extremely common throughout Britain and western Europe, in marked contrast to the Arctic and Subarctic distribution of herds today. This study investigates the palaeobiogeography of this species over a Late Pleistocene temporal transect (c. 82,000-11,700 years BP) and a geographical range across Britain and north-west Europe, to enable the impacts of climatic, environmental and anthropogenic changes on reindeer ecology to be more precisely understood. This is particularly important given the recent global declines in both the body masses and population sizes of modern reindeer and their now vulnerable conservation status.

As bi-annual migrators, reconstructions of reindeer palaeobiogeography were achieved by examining the seasonality of site occupations through the recognition of seasonal aggregations. The selection and development of non-destructive techniques for the ageing and sexing of dental, postcranial and antler remains in this thesis, has demonstrated spatial and temporal variability in the seasonality of site occupations by reindeer, although both migratory and sedentary niches were represented during the Late Pleistocene. In addition to the varying climatic and environmental conditions, this emphasises the importance of the influence of herd-specific factors such as density, snow conditions and human activity on reindeer palaeobiogeography. The impact of these factors was particularly evident from the reconstruction of body masses in modern mountain and forest reindeer, which were then used as the model for reconstructions of Late Pleistocene body mass.

Where multiple seasons of occupation were reconstructed for British sites from the Early (Windy Knoll) and Middle (Kents Cavern and Pin Hole Cave) Devensian, dental microwear analysis was conducted to provide insight into the palaeodiet of reindeer. Forage is an important influence on reindeer migrations and the monthly precision of dentition aged in this study has enabled seasonal variability in the dietary signals of microwear to be identified in both modern and fossil reindeer. For the two Middle Devensian sites, strontium isotope analysis was also conducted on dentition in a pilot study, demonstrating the differing scales of mobility at the two sites.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Schreve, Danielle, Supervisor
  • Candy, Ian, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jul 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020

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