Roman Environment

Little fresh palaeoenvironmental evidence has been recovered from Roman sites over the past ten years, and there is still a dearth of evidence for agricultural practices across the north west. Two major regional English Heritage surveys, of invertebrates in archaeology (Kenward 2009), and of charcoal and wood (Huntley 2010), provide valuable syntheses of data and sites, and summarise the findings to publication date, but both have identified almost no new Roman sites since 2006 for the region.

Similarly, all the palaeoenvironmental work for the Fields of Britannia Project was undertaken prior to 2006 in Merseyside and Lancashire Plain. Rippon et al. (2015) suggest that there is variation within the land-use across the Western Lowlands in the Roman period with predominantly open landscapes to the south, and greater areas of woodland to the north. A total of 49 sites within this region have yielded late Roman (or broadly dated ‘Roman’) ditches whose relationship to the historic landscape can be established, mostly in the south of the region. Unlike the regions in southern and eastern Britain, however, the dearth of post-Roman material culture means that there are no instances where early medieval pottery has been identified within the upper fills of Romano-British ditches (thereby confirming that the ditch remained open). Overall, 59 per cent of the Romano-British sites have boundaries that share alignments or orientation with historic landscapes characterized by medieval Closes or former Open Field (Rippon et al. 2015, 258).

A few sites have produced evidence of crop regimes and the management and selective use of timber for fuel. The Ravenglass (C) vicus excavations produced evidence of iron smithing, through hammerscale, metallic slag and magnetic material. The charcoal from the site indicates selection of hardwood types which sustained high temperatures over long periods when burnt, notably oak and alder with some ash (Miller 2015, 102). Hazel, cherry type, alder and poplar/willow charcoal was also identified and reflects possible utilisation of structural wattle panelling or collection of local woodland resources for kindling for domestic fuel or industrial fires. Only limited quantities of cereals were recovered and included spelt and emmer wheat, possible emmer and six-row barley (probably hulled). This suggests local small-scale cereal processing (Miller 2015, 109). It is likely that the grains are residual from accidental loss during the parching stage of cereal processing, a process which by the Roman period was often carried out in purpose-built cereal drying kilns. Wheat generally requires better soils for cultivation in comparison to other cereals and may signify the presence of such here. However, it is also possible the grain for the garrison and vicus to have been transported from other locations rather than grown in the immediate area. The assemblage also indicates consumption of bread, and perhaps beer and potage, although it is too small to determine dietary preferences. However, the first major deposits of carbonised bread type wheat are found in the Roman period, for example at South Shields (Carruthers 1993).

At the Chester Business Park site, although poorly preserved, the presence of a ditch system suggested control of livestock movement between enclosures. The site was notable for good preservation of environmental remains (mainly macrobotanical and insect remains, indicating presence of animal dung) from three waterholes or wells, dating from the Iron Age through to the Roman period. The ditched enclosure and trackways are a possible indication of a pastoral economy or livestock management on the outskirts of the fortress, of a type paralleled at Metchley in Birmingham (Jones 2011; 2012) and in the upper Thames valley (Booth 2016).

At Jersey Way, Middlewich, the land was initially used for both arable and pastoral farming but a reduction in grazing indicators and increase in crop growth in the pollen evidence suggests subsequent less intensive emphasis on pastoral farming. Charcoal analysis indicated a preference for oak and ash as fuel in the salt-manufacturing process (Zant 2016).


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