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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Staff

Publication details for Professor Mike Church

Treasure, E.R., Gröcke, D.R., Caseldine, A.E. & Church, M.J (2019). Neolithic farming and wild plant exploitation in western Britain: archaeobotanical and crop stable isotope evidence from Wales (c. 4000–2200 cal BC). Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 85: 193-222.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The introduction of agriculture is a key defining element of the Neolithic, yet considerable debate persists concerning the nature and significance of early farming practices in north-west Europe. This paper reviews archaeobotanical evidence from 95 Neolithic sites (c. 4000–2200 cal bc) in Wales, focusing on wild plant exploitation, the range of crops present, and the significance of cereals in subsistence practices. Cereal cultivation practices in Early Neolithic Wales are also examined using cereal grain stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope analysis. The Early Neolithic period witnessed the widespread uptake of cereals alongside considerable evidence for continued wild plant exploitation, notably hazelnuts and wild fruits. The possibility that wild plants and woodlands were deliberately managed or altered to promote the growth of certain plants is outlined. Small cereal grain assemblages, with little evidence for chaff and weed seeds, are common in the Early Neolithic, whereas cereal-rich sites are rare. Emmer wheat was the dominant crop in the Early Neolithic, while other cereal types were recorded in small quantities. Cereal nitrogen isotope (δ15N) values from Early Neolithic sites provided little evidence for intensive manuring. We suggest that cultivation conditions may have been less intensive when compared to other areas of Britain and Europe. In the later Neolithic period, there is evidence for a decline in the importance of cereals. Finally, the archaeobotanical and crop isotope data from this study are considered within a wider European context.