Vole clock

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Because vole teeth are so durable, common and well-preserved, they are a useful ‘clock’ for dating archaeological sites.

Some voles became extinct at known times. The water vole and its ancestors show what may be evolutionary changes through time, losing the roots on their cheek teeth in the early Middle Pleistocene and showing progressive changes in the distribution of enamel. Most vole remains that turn up on archaeological digs can be identified from characteristic wear patterns on the enamel of their molars.

The particular species found are a good indicator of environmental conditions at the time. For example, the short-tailed grass vole and the bank vole appear both now and in sites dating back to the warm interglacial Middle and Late Pleistocene period. During colder periods, species like the narrow-skulled vole are common. The northern vole is not usually present in the warmest periods and often indicates seasonally flooded grassland. This provides a method of dating Pleistocene sites more precisely.

The vole clock has been used to reinterpret the sequence of events in the Pleistocene in both Britain and other European sites.[1]


  1. http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/T/timeteam/archive/2000elveden_vole.html