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A chronological framework for the British Quaternary based on Bithynia opercula

Penkman, K.E.H.; Preece, R.C.; Bridgland, D.R.; Keen, D.H.; Meijer, T.; Parfitt, S.A.; White, T.S.; Collins, M.J.


K.E.H. Penkman

R.C. Preece

D.H. Keen

T. Meijer

S.A. Parfitt

T.S. White

M.J. Collins


Marine and ice-core records show that the Earth has experienced a succession of glacials and interglacials during the Quaternary (last ~2.6 million years), although it is often difficult to correlate fragmentary terrestrial records with specific cycles. Aminostratigraphy is a method potentially able to link terrestrial sequences to the marine isotope stages (MIS) of the deep-sea record1, 2. We have used new methods of extraction and analysis of amino acids, preserved within the calcitic opercula of the freshwater gastropod Bithynia, to provide the most comprehensive data set for the British Pleistocene based on a single dating technique. A total of 470 opercula from 74 sites spanning the entire Quaternary are ranked in order of relative age based on the extent of protein degradation, using aspartic acid/asparagine (Asx), glutamic acid/glutamine (Glx), serine (Ser), alanine (Ala) and valine (Val). This new aminostratigraphy is consistent with the stratigraphical relationships of stratotypes, sites with independent geochronology, biostratigraphy and terrace stratigraphy3, 4, 5, 6. The method corroborates the existence of four interglacial stages between the Anglian (MIS 12) and the Holocene in the terrestrial succession. It establishes human occupation of Britain in most interglacial stages after MIS 15, but supports the notion of human absence during the Last Interglacial (MIS 5e)7. Suspicions that the treeless ‘optimum of the Upton Warren interstadial’ at Isleworth pre-dates MIS 3 are confirmed. This new aminostratigraphy provides a robust framework against which climatic, biostratigraphical and archaeological models can be tested.


Penkman, K., Preece, R., Bridgland, D., Keen, D., Meijer, T., Parfitt, S., …Collins, M. (2011). A chronological framework for the British Quaternary based on Bithynia opercula. Nature, 476(7361), 446-449.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Aug 1, 2011
Deposit Date Jan 19, 2012
Journal Nature
Print ISSN 0028-0836
Electronic ISSN 1476-4687
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 476
Issue 7361
Pages 446-449
Keywords Archaeology and anthropology, Earth science, Climate science, Palaeontology.