Roddon research reaps rich rewards

Posted by mjs76 at Aug 17, 2010 04:15 PM |
Fossilised water channels reveal ancient landscape of the fens.

What is a roddon? It sounds like a sub-atomic particle or maybe something that a neurologist would study, but it’s actually a fossilised water channel. And a team led by three researchers from our Department of Geology has just published a fascinating paper on the roddons of Eastern England.

The English Fenlands extend from Lincolnshire down to Suffolk and have been extensively shaped by farming and drainage practices over centuries of human habitation. But the area is full of roddons which betray the original nature of the land.

Although their origins are water channels, the roddons exist now as ridges, visible in some areas to the naked eye and in some instances traceable from aerial photographs. This is because sedimentary deposits have filled up the channel, then remained as the material around has been eroded or washed away, just like sedimentary rock replacing the bones of a skeleton over time to create a fossil. There are also lots of actual microfossils of marine life within the roddons themselves.

There seem to be three ‘generations’ of roddons, suggesting that three cataclysmic flooding events contributed to the demise of the ancient water courses at different times. Drainage of the Fenlands began during Roman times but the most substantial work was carried out in the 17th century. Nowadays much of the land lies below sea-level and is potentially very susceptible to climate-change-induced changes, so the Leicester’s teams research, like so much paleaoenvironmentalism, has important implications for the present and the future.

The paper, 'Holocene drainage systems of the English Fenland: roddons and their environmental significance', was co-authored by Dinah Smith, Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams with colleagues from the British Geological Survey, Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service and the Wickham Fourth District Internal Drainage Board in Lincolnshire. It has been published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.