Plymouth Archaeology Society

Search the PDAS site


Ralph Fyfe

4th February 2008

He is an archaeologist who doesn’t do digs! Instead he looks at the landscape and uses proxies. Pollen analysis needs to be done in anaerobic or undisturbed conditions and is normally done on blanket bog. Instead he sought small peat growing areas in Devon and took ......

core samples along a transect and had some carbon dating done. He then sat down and identified and counted nearly half a million pollen grains. The frequency of the key species was plotted against time on a series of graphs and he then looked for similar patterns and sudden changes. He also transcribed the relevant tithe maps into the digital GIS system, including the field names. Using both the names and the field boundaries he worked backwards to the earliest field systems and was able to reproduce a three dimensional view of the early farming landscape.

In the territory of the Dumnonii, circular enclosures were found in an open landscape but at some time these were replaced by tri-partite longhouses with a field system. Few Roman villas were built in the area and their boundary also relates to the extent of Saxon influence. His research indicated that the woodland was cleared just prior to the Roman Invasion, when farming became pastoral. Arable farming began between the seventh and ninth centuries, but ploughing may only have taken place once in ten years. In the upland fringe there was a similar pattern with cereal cultivation beginning later but long before the high medieval period. There is later documentary confirmation of fields producing arable crops for three years followed by seven years as pasture and transhumance in the uplands.

His findings suggested that our regionally distinctive landscape gave rise to a successful agrarian system and so there has been no need to form nucleated settlements. The same pattern has been found in Sweden and it is unclear whether changes were triggered by social or climatic changes.

Joan Price



Lecture Reports