Preserved lipid signatures in palaeosols help to distinguish the impacts of palaeoclimate and indigenous peoples on palaeovegetation in northwest Siberia

Loïc Harraulta* (Corresponding Author), Karen Milek, Arnaud Huguet, Christelle Anquetil, David G. Anderson

*Corresponding author for this work

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Arctic reindeer herders demonstrate resilience to climate fluctuations by adjusting their pastoral practices to changing environments. The multiple phases of occupation at one of the oldest identified reindeer-herding sites, I͡Arte 6 on the I͡Amal peninsula, northwest Siberia, are thought to be linked to its local vegetation cover. Here we provide information on local palaeovegetation and climate shifts which occurred between the 7th and the 11th 26 century CE
based on lipid biomarkers. Aliphatic compounds, pentacyclic triterpenoids, branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (brGDGTs) and other lipids were analysed in four separate palaeosols from two loess-palaeosol sequences at the site. Based on different indices, the impact of human- or root-derived lipids and post-depositional microbial degradation on the signature of the studied pedosequences seem limited, which indicates that palaeobiomarkers are well preserved and representative of the analysed compounds. n-Alkanes, n-carboxylic acids, n-aldehydes and pentacyclic triterpenoids point to the
progressive colonization of grasses, sedges and herbs at the site, which can be attributed to the regional decrease in temperature suggested by bacterial-derived brGDGTs. During the last phase of occupation, however, when proxies point to increasing temperatures, and shrubs would normally be expected to return, the shrub cover continued to decrease, probably due to the impact of camping and holding reindeer at the site. The decoupling trends observed for
39 particular pentacyclic triterpenoids as potential dwarf birch biomarkers could suggest a preferential shift of species within shrubs, probably influenced by human activities. Multi41 family lipid biomarker analysis therefore made it possible to distinguish anthropogenic impacts on the local vegetation cover from regional climatic changes, and show how significant the impacts of humans on local vegetation can be, even in extreme environments where such activities are limited.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104407
Number of pages15
JournalOrganic Geochemistry
Early online date24 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

This study was funded by the ESRC ES/ M011054/1 “JPI Climate: Social-Ecological Transformations: HUMan-ANimal Relations Under Climate Change in NORthern Eurasia” held at the University of Aberdeen, within the Nordforsk network HUMANOR at the University of Lapland (Decision #291581), by the European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant 295458 “Arctic Domus” and by the Leverhulme Trust (Grant RPG-2019-745 258). We thank Julia Kremkova, Andreĭ Plekhanov, Konstantin Oshchepekov and their team for their help with our fieldwork. We thank Organic Geochemistry co-Editor-in-Chief John Volkman, Associate Editors Phil Meyers and Klaas Nierop, and three reviewers for their
749 constructive comments and suggestions. We are also grateful for helpful comments from Sylvie Derenne, and for modern plant cover data and HUMANOR project leadership by Bruce Forbes.


  • Geoarchaeology
  • Human-environment interactions
  • Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction
  • Tundra vegetation
  • Lipid Biomarkers


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