Friday, 27 November 2015

Revisiting agriculture in Iron Age Britain

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Prof. Gordon Hillman and Ray Mears (Image: Youtube)
One of my current research projects is investigating agriculture in Iron Age Britain, and it gives me an opportunity to work with a real hero in environmental archaeology -- Prof. Gordon Hillman, retired Professor of Archaeobotany at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. Gordon is known to many because of his work on television with Ray Mears, where they munched their way around Britain and beyond to see which wild plants were edible and useful, and examine scientific evidence for gathering of these plants in the past. Gordon is also one of the best known archaeobotanists in the world because of his innovative work investigating agricultural systems, crop processing, wild plant use and many other topics.

Spikelet fork of spelt wheat from Uley Bury
Gordon's in-depth knowledge of human-plant interactions and his original approaches to studying past agricultural practices have had a huge impact on how we undertake research in archaeological science. Over the decades, Gordon analysed many archaeobotanical assemblages, but some of these analyses are unpublished or incomplete. A research project has therefore been established to complete and publish some of this work. We have decided to focus on five sites from southern Britain that date to the Iron Age (Cefn Graeanog, Gwynedd; Dinorben, Conwy; Moel Hiraddug, Denbighshire; Pembrey Mountain, Carmarthenshire; Uley Bury, Gloucestershire). We anticipate that comparative analysis of the diverse plant remains assemblages from these sites will provide significant new insights into an important period of agricultural development in prehistoric Britain.

I am working closely with Dr Sue Colledge, who is another leading archaeobotanist at UCL, and together we are identifying and analysing the plant remains from the five chosen sites, and then writing up the results with Gordon. The research is being funded by the Association for Environmental Archaeology, and we are very grateful to the AEA for giving us an opportunity to undertake this important work. We hope to complete the project by early 2016 and publish a paper on the results soon after. Watch this space for further information.

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