The permanence, intensity and seasonality of early crop cultivation in Western-Central Europe
The aim of this project is to assess competing models of neolithic-bronze age crop husbandry (shifting cultivation, extensive ard cultivation, floodplain cultivation, intensive garden cultivation) in the loess belt of western-central Europe and the Alpine Foreland by analysing archaeobotanical weed assemblages. Modern weed survey studies relating to three key variables (permanence, intensity, seasonality) distinguishing these models are used as ‘controls' to which the archaeobotanical weed data are compared on the basis of their weed ecological characteristics. Data on the ecology of the archaeobotanically attested weed taxa are assembled by measuring the 'functional attributes' (ecologically meaningful morphological and behavioural traits) of robust present-day specimens. This method was previously used to analyse the modern weed survey studies of traditional crop husbandry regimes, with the result that weed species characterising different regimes could be distinguished on the basis of their functional attributes. Archaeobotanical samples most likely to contain crop and weed material from the same arable source are identified by considering the influence of various taphonomic factors on sample composition. Of the thousands of archaeobotanical samples available from the study area, 130 samples, mostly neolithic (especially early neolithic) in date, are selected as offering the best evidence of crop growing conditions. Direct comparison of the modern and archaeobotanical weed data indicate that cereals (mostly glume wheats) were grown in fixed plots sown in the autumn and managed using intensive methods (e. g. careful tillage and weeding, manuring or middening). While the shifting, extensive ard and floodplain cultivation models can be excluded based on these results, intensive garden cultivation emerges as the most plausible model of crop husbandry, with a series of implications for the mobility, productivity and long-term sustainability of early crop cultivation in western-central Europe. Exploration of internal variation in weed composition among archaeobotanical samples reveals ecological trends and hence differences in crop husbandry practices between archaeological sites as well as within the best-represented site, LBK Vaihingen. Inter-site differences appear to reflect the existence of regional crop husbandry traditions, while intra-site variability in cultivation intensity at Vaihingen may relate to the unusually high degree of nucleation at this enclosed LBK site.