Gathering the harvest

By 16/08/2021September 9th, 2021News

We’re pleased to help support the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in this innovative venture! Their citizen science project, supported by the Royal Archaeological Institute, will collate evidence for the rural economy of Iron Age and Roman Cambridgeshire. The aim of the project is to understand how the plants cultivated and used by people during these periods were distributed across Cambridgeshire, and Britain as a whole.

Two methods will be used to gather this information: the first will be to study archaeobotanical reports on plant remains from excavations across the county. Cambridgeshire, with its fenland, chalk downs, boulder clay and river valleys, each with their own distinct plant species, is an ideal area for research of this type; where species are found outside their natural habitats, people may have moved them. Additionally, documentary sources will be examined for details about the cultivation and transportation of plants.

Much is known about the impact the arrival of the Romans, with the construction of long distance roads, had on trade in artefacts in Britain. Far less is known about the movement of plants at this time, despite the fact that grains and vegetables were staples of the Roman diet. The study will also include plants used for animal husbandry such as hay and straw, thatching used for construction, and peat which was used for fuel. The project will fill a gap in the current knowledge of the distribution of plants, which was crucial to the Roman economy.

Cambridgeshire is one of the most extensively excavated areas in the UK and plants from hundreds of Iron Age and Roman sites have been analysed, providing a wealth of archaeobotanical datasets for the project. Volunteers are sought to help collate the results of the plant remains from 75 sites, and study documentary sources for information on movement and trade of plants in Roman Britain.

To read more about this exciting project, or to volunteer, visit the ‘Gathering the Harvest’ website here.