Arable farming in north east England during the later prehistoric and Roman period : an archaeobotanical perspective
It has been the aim of the present study to analyse and interpret recently collected archaeobotanical data from north-east England, a lowland area within the Highland Zone of Britain, in order to improve our understanding of the role of arable farming in this region, and to assess the extent to which the increase in scale of arable farming, as witnessed in parts of the Lowland Zone of Britain, took place in this region. The data used are carbonized seed assemblages collected by the writer from seven prehistoric and two Roman period sites located in this region. This data base consists of 325 samples and ca. 89,000 seeds. The archaeobotanical analysis of the data set has indicated that within the prehistoric assemblages two separate groups could be identified, Group A and Group B, with both the crops and the associated weed species pointing to differences in the crop husbandry practices of the two groups. The assemblages of Group A are interpreted as reflecting intensive, small-scale agriculture, those of Group B larger-scale cultivation and arable expansion. These differences could not be 'explained' by chronological differences. The marked geographical difference between the two groups of sites (Group A sites located north of the Tyne, Group B sites south of the Tyne) could not be explained by intraregional variation in environmental factors, but does appear to relate to differences in settlement type and location, and these two factors appear to be connected to cultural and socio-economic differences in the two parts of the region. The evidence from the Roman assemblages indicated that the Roman army was, at least partly, supplied with grain by the local farmers, probably by those living in the Tyne-Tees region. The results of the present study have indicated that arable farming played an important role in the economy of the late Iron Age people of this part of the Highland Zone, that an expansion of arable farming did take place in part of the study area, and that differences in the scale of arable farming within the region were probably more a function of socioeconomic than of environmental factors.