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Snail shells yield ancient climate clues

Jan. 30, 2013 at 2:31 PM   |   Comments

YORK, England, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- An old wives' tale that snails can be a sign of changing weather should not be dismissed out of hand, European researchers say, as they may give climate clues.

Snails climbing a plant or post supposedly means rain is coming, the tale goes, but a study led by the University of York in Britain goes one better: It shows snails can provide a wealth of information about the prevailing weather conditions thousands of years ago.

Analysis of the chemistry of snail shells recovered from Mediterranean caves, and dating back as far as 9,000 years, shows the western Mediterranean was not the hot dry place it is now but warmer, wetter and stickier, a university release reported Wednesday.

Archaeological sites around the Mediterranean basin from the time when the first farmers arrived in Italy and Spain contain an abundance of land snail shell remains, the researchers said.

"By putting together research on snails from multiple sites across Spain and Italy, we were able to produce a large scale regional picture for weather conditions over the western Mediterranean area," York archaeologist Andre Carlo Colonese said.

"Interestingly, when compared with previous studies, we found that while conditions on the Atlantic coast of northern Spain were probably much like those of today, on the Mediterranean side in locations such as southern Spain and Sicily, conditions were much more humid," he said.

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