Archaeology and Ancient History

Student projects

Alexandra Livarda, Introduction and dispersal of exotic food plants into Europe during the Roman and medieval periods (completed 2008)

This thesis examines the introduction and importation of numerous exotic food plants into north-western and western Europe during the Roman and medieval periods. It constitutes the first part of a wider, ongoing research project directed by Professor Van der Veen on “Long-distance Trade and Agricultural Development”.

Relevant data were collected from all available archaeobotanical records in the area and period under study, and brought together in a uniform database format. Two types of analyses were employed: a species-specific and a multivariate technique. Results indicate the emergence of very distinct dispersal patterns for each period and food. This study advances understanding of the changing nature of the exotic status of many species, and reveals these as crucial guides to charting human and economic impacts and movements.

  • Livarda, A. 2008. New temptations? Olive, cherry and mulberry in Roman and medieval Europe. In Baker, S, Allen, M., Middle, S, and Poole, K. (eds) Food and Drink in Archaeology I. Totnes, Prospect Books, pp. 73-83.
  • Livarda, A. and Van der Veen, M. 2008. Social access and dispersal of condiments in north-west Europe from the Roman to the medieval period. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 17 (Suppl. 1): 201-209.
  • Livarda, A. 2011. Spicing up life in north-western Europe: exotic food plant imports in the Roman and medieval world. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 20: 143-164.
  • Livarda, A. 2013. Date, rituals and socio-cultural identity in the north-western Roman provinces. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 32(1): 101-117.

Kate Parks, Arable practice in the Iron Age and Roman East of England (completed 2013)

This thesis provides an interpretation of Iron Age and Roman arable practices in the East of England (c. 800 BC-AD 400), 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 the 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.

Kelly Reed, Farmers in transition: The archaeobotanical analysis of the Carpathian basin from the late neolithic to the late Bronze Age (5000-900 BC) (completed 2013)

This thesis examines the development of agriculture within the Carpathian Basin from the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age. Information on prehistoric crop practices within Croatia have been absent from current debates on the spread and development of agriculture in Southeast Europe. The aim of the study is to examine new archaeobotanical data and provide information on subsistence practices within Croatia, and integrate these with those available from the wider region of the Carpathian Basin. The re-examination of archaeobotanical material from Late Bronze Age Feudvar has allowed the identification of crop husbandry regimes at the site level.

The results indicate continuous crop cultivation, as well as the collection of wild resources, within Croatia from the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze. At Feudvar, crop processing analysis indicated that a number of socio-economic factors dictated whether a crop was fully cleaned after the harvest, sieved at a later stage or left full of impurities.

Further investigation into ecological characteristics of weed species within three groups of samples (unsieved spikelets, products and fine sieving by-products) identified the practice of two distinct crop husbandry regimes at Feudvar. The first represents small-scale intensive cultivation associated with the wheat crops (i.e. einkorn and emmer) and the second represents a more large-scale extensive husbandry regime associated with barley. Integrating these results within the wider geographical area showed regional and temporal variations in the crops cultivated that are likely linked to personal choice and socio-economic influences rather than environmental constraints.

This study advances our knowledge on farming practices within the Carpathian Basin and demonstrates the importance of archaeobotanical data to debates on socio-economic and technological change in prehistory.

  • Reed, K. 2011. Preliminary archaeobotanical results. In Balen, J (ed) Đakovo-Franjevac, Late Neolithic site. Musei Archaeologici Zagrabiensis Catalogi et Monographiae Vol VII: Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu, pp. 126-7.
  • Krznarić Škrivanko, M. and Reed. K. 2008. The Late Neolithic site of Sopot, Vinkovci: results of the site stratigraphy, C14 dates, and the analysis of archaeo-botanical and osteological remains. The European Archaeologist 28: 3.

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