posted on 2013-06-07, 14:39authored byKate Ellen Parks
This thesis provides an interpretation of Iron Age and Roman arable practice in the East of England, using data on carbonised plant macrofossils recovered during excavation as its primary data. Choice of crop, strategies employed in cultivation, and the ways in which crops were processed, stored and utilised are explored and linked to wider social and economic changes over time.
Spelt and barley are confirmed as the major crops of the region/period, with localised emmer cultivation well attested in the Middle Iron Age; bread wheat cultivation was rare. Investment of sufficient labour/resources to maintain reasonable crop-yields is revealed as the normal attitude to cultivation throughout the region and period. Small-scale handling of crops was the norm until the Middle Roman period, when increased scale of production, along with malting, use of chaff as fuel, and concern with efficiency of crop-storage/transport suggest a switch from subsistence production to participation in a more market-oriented economy.
Middle Iron Age emmer cultivation (alongside spelt) and investment in large-scale production indicate surplus production on the Isle of Ely, suggested to have been enabled by inter-settlement co-operation or exchange of labour for grain by settlements pursuing other economic strategies. Middle Iron Age hillforts are suggested to have had a role similar to that of the classic Wessex examples. Roman small towns are suggested to have been partly self-sufficient, but households are also thought to have imported some (semi-processed) grain. By contrast, clean grain was supplied in bulk to Early Roman Colchester through large-scale local cultivation. The Middle Roman surge in production is suggested to have met the demands (rent, taxation) of new systems of land ownership, but also to have contributed to supplying townspeople and/or the army in the region and beyond.