A review of the archaeological evidence for food plants from the British Isles: an example of the use of the Archaeobotanical Computer Database (ABCD)

Philippa Tomlinson1 and Allan R. Hall2

1 Centre for Manx Studies, Douglas, Isle of Man
2 Dept. Archaeology, University of York,
Philippa Tomlinson prt1@liverpool.ac.uk Allan R.Hall biol8@york.ac.uk


The Archaeobotanical Computer Database is an electronic compilation of information about remains of plants from archaeological deposits throughout the British Isles. For the first time, this wealth of published data, much of it post-dating Godwin's (1975) History of the British Flora has been brought together in a form in which the user can explore the history of a particular species or group of plants, or investigate the flora and vegetation of a particular archaeological period or part of the British Isles. The database contains information about the sites, deposits and samples from which the remains in question have been recovered, together with details of the plant parts identified and their mode of preservation. It also provides some interpretative guidance concerning the integrity of contexts and the reliability of dating as an aid to judging the quality of the data available.

In this paper the compilers of the ABCD make use of the database in order to review the archaeological evidence for food plants in the British Isles. The paper begins with a definition of its scope, examining the concept of a "food plant" and the taphonomy of plant remains on British archaeological sites. It then summarises the principal changes in food plants from the prehistoric period to post-medieval times. The body of the paper is a detailed discussion of the evidence for the use of berries, other fruits, vegetables, pulses, herbs and flavourings, oil plants, cereals and nuts. Finally, the paper compares the archaeological evidence with that known from documentary sources.

Readers will be able to view the archaeological evidence as distribution maps and will be able to explore aspects of the database online, enabling queries by taxa, site or worker. Instructions on obtaining electronic copies of the database tables and registering as an ABCD user are also included.

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