Cereal conservation systems in the British Isles, prehistoric to modern times – a summary

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    Authors & editors

    Bowie, Gavin G S [Author]

    Publisher The author
    Year of publication 2022 August

    Medium Digital

    Cereal processes > Flour milling
    Cereal processes > Handling, storage & transport
    Economics & commerce > Feeding the World


    Scope & contentAbstract:
    This short note aims to provide a starting point for a better understanding of the vast quantity of archaeological data that is available for the study of cereal farming practices in the British Isles.

    It concentrates on how cereals have been harvested, conserved and milled for human consumption, and uses archival and archaeological evidence for both the crops cultivated in, and the built environment created by, the different agrarian economies described. Whilst grain driers were essential in the wetter north and west of the British Isles, grain will dry in stooks in the harvest field in the lowlands of southern and eastern England. Grain driers only featured in southern and eastern England during the Late Roman period when they formed an essential part of a high capital input market-orientated cereal farming system. They fell out of use in these regions in the 5th century, together with the hulled cereals that require drying before milling, and were only reintroduced in the 1950s as part of the current system of harvesting and conserving grain crops with the combine harvester.

    Water powered grain mills were first used in the Late Roman period and reintroduced in the 7th century. They appear initially to have been associated with high status settlements, but later in the Anglo-Saxon period formed a crucial part in the development of marker-orientated cereal farming economies. Such sophisticated agrarian economies evolved in the 10th and 11th centuries, and I argue that it was then, rather than in the 8th century, that a ‘transformation’ in Anglo-Saxon agriculture took place.

    Divisions within this publication

    • 1: Cereal conservation in the north and west of the British Isles
    • 2: The Late Roman cereal farming economy
    • 3: The cereal farming economy of southern and eastern England in the Anglo-Saxon period
    • 4: The evolution of the rural non-domestic built environment in the late medieval period

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