An international team of researchers has shown that old wives' tales that snails can tell us about the weather should not be dismissed too hastily. While the story goes that if a snail climbs a plant or post, rain is coming, research led by the University of York goes one better: it shows snails can provide a wealth of information about the prevailing weather conditions thousands of years ago. The researchers, including scientists from the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC), analyzed the chemistry of snail shells dating back 9,000 to 2,500 years recovered from Mediterranean caves, looking at humidity at different times in the past. Their findings, which were reported online on January 30, 2013 in the journal Quaternary International, reveal that when the first farmers arrived in Italy and Spain, the western Mediterranean was not the hot dry place it is now, but warmer, wetter, and stickier. The research was led by Dr. André Carlo Colonese from York’s Department of Archaeology. Dr. Colonese and his co-authors believe that land snails have great potential as a source of information about human behaviour and palaeoclimatic conditions and therefore should be given much more attention. Dr. Colonese, an EU Marie Curie Fellow in York’s Centre for Human Palaeoecology & Evolutionary Origins, 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. This allowed us to observe differences in climate across the region.
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