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The polyrhythms of the Iron Age heathland farm: a view from Western Denmark

Activity: Talk or presentation typesLecture and oral contribution

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Mark Haughton - Lecturer

Zachary Adam Caple - Lecturer

In the Early Iron Age, the heathland areas of Western Denmark transformed from a winter grazing commons to a site of semi-permanent agricultural settlement. Extensive networks of Celtic fields enveloped the heathlands. In contrast to earlier seasonal migrations, the rhythms of everyday life in the Iron Age were dictated by the field. Iron Age farmers practiced a mixed mode of agriculture combining swidden cereal production and livestock husbandry. Fields rotated between cereal plots, pasture, and heath-fallow. Without manuring, the fields may have required a fallow as long as 35 years, but the incorporation of dung, household waste, and other manures significantly shortened the fallow cycle. In addition to these longer cycles, farm life was punctuated by the seasonal rhythms of livestock and crop needs. While we might imagine the farm’s rhythms following the predictable schedule of the harvest, the harsh environmental conditions of heath may have subjected the farming communities to the temporalities of disaster. Given the heath’s sandy oligotrophic soil, a 3-week period of drought could ruin the crop, forcing people to adopt emergency strategies.

This paper will examine the composition of this polyrhythmic agrarian landscape as it is revealed through archaeological and palynological remains. The rhythms of the Iron Age farm are traced through several case studies which attend to the varied uses of heather as fuel, fodder, and building material. The consequences of the failure of these cycles are also explored. Thus, the farm is seen to extend beyond the in-field zone which is often the focus of archaeological investigations. We also draw out the ontological contrasts with earlier periods that this evidence suggests.
1 Sep 2022

Event (Conference)

Title28th EAA Annual Meeting
Abbreviated titleEAA 2022
LocationEötvös Loránd University
Degree of recognitionInternational event

ID: 290745194