Environmental Archaeology Update

Although we aren’t running any environmental samples this season, (but reserve the right to take some to throw at our environmental supervisor when she returns), environmental archaeologist Alice has sent along her preliminary findings based on data from the 2008 and 2019 seasons. You can read about how plant material is separated from the sample here.

Her research involves examining changes from 4th-15th centuries, which she has divided into 6 periods spanning the Late Roman to Late Medieval. Most of the samples analysed were taken from contexts dating to the early medieval period which she divided into Early Medieval 1 (6th-8thC) and Early Medieval 2 (9th-10thC). Common cereal grains during the periods represented by the samples include wheat, barley, oat, and some rye. In addition, lentils and peas, though rare, were found. These are in the legume family and related to beans, peanuts, and clover.

A stream of muddy water flowing into a white bag held in place with clips.
Plant materials from an environmental sample flow out of the flotation tank into a mesh bag for collection.

Samples from the early periods (Late Roman and post-Roman) do not show evidence for legume consumption, but this could be attributed the paucity of environmental samples from those periods, not necessarily an absence of legumes. There is a slight increase in legume presence by percentage of total remains found from the Early Medieval 1 to Early Medieval 2. Celtic beans and common vetch round out the legume results. Peas and legumes unidentifiable at the species level were the most common of the varieties. Thus far lentils have only been found in Britain during the 9th through 13th centuries, which had a warmer climate than the surrounding centuries and called the Medieval Warm Period or Medieval Climatic Anomaly.

With respect to cereal crops, the evidence shows that wheat was the dominant grain during the Late Roman and Post-Roman periods (ending in the 5thC). During the early medieval period, wheat is in decline, but oat and barley become much more common until wheat staged a comeback. We have extensive evidence of oat in Early Medieval 2 period because an oven for drying grains was sampled and therefore dominates statistically among the small sample number.

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