3.4 Plants

3.4.1 Cereals

Figure 43
Figure 43: Cereal spectrum in the Middle Roman period in Tiel-Passewaaij, Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet, Kesteren-de Woerd and 15 settlements in the Dutch River Area. Illustration Bert Brouwenstijn, ACVU.

Figure 44
Figure 44: Emmer wheat. Photo L.I. Kooistra.

Figure 45
Figure 45: Barley. Photo L.I. Kooistra.

Figure 46
Figure 46: Cultivated oats. Photo L.I. Kooistra.

Figure 47
Figure 47: Charred chaff remains of emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon). Photo BIAX Consult.

The main cereals found in the settlement Passewaaijse Hogeweg are emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon) and hulled six-row barley (Hordeum vulgare var. vulgare). Oat (Avena) and millet (Panicum miliaceum) only occurred sporadically (Fig. 43). In the Middle Roman settlements of Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet and Kesteren-De Woerd, emmer and barley are also important cereals, closely followed by oat (Figs. 44, 45 and 46). Millet is absent in Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet in the Middle Roman period, but is found in the Early Roman period. Spelt wheat (Triticum spelta) is only found in Kesteren-De Woerd. This makes the settlement Kesteren-De Woerd an exception for the River Area, since it is the only one out of fifteen agrarian settlements analysed so far where spelt wheat is found. For the Roman authorities, spelt wheat was a favourite cereal. The presence of spelt wheat in Kesteren-De Woerd could perhaps be related to the Roman fort located nearby, and may not have been cultivated on the arable fields of Kesteren-De Woerd. A comparison between the left and right bar in Figure 43 shows that the cereal spectrum of Tiel-Passewaaij and the proportions of different cereal types are characteristic of the entire Dutch River Area.

Based on the presence of chaff remains (Fig. 47) and arable weeds in the agrarian settlements of the Dutch River Area, it is assumed that the cereals were grown locally. The weed assemblage indicates that the arable fields were located on the streamridges. Weeds of humid to wet conditions such as spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris/uniglumis), found among the cereals, indicate that the arable fields were situated on the edge of the streamridges, or that the fields had humid depressions. The near absence of straw and stem bases of cereals suggests that cereals were harvested just below the ear, and that the rest of the plant remained in the fields. Research in Houten-Tiellandt has suggested that livestock, for example cattle and sheep, was put to pasture on the fields after the harvest, where they grazed on stubble and weeds. This had two advantages: livestock was fed and the fields were fertilised.

The weed spectrum found among the cereals indicates that barley, emmer and oat were grown as summer crops. Millet is undoubtedly a summer crop, because this cereal does not tolerate frost. Summer cereals are cereals that are sown in spring and harvested in the second half of the summer of the same year (end of July, August).

At the end of the 1st century AD, no specialisation in the production of a single crop took place, as was the case in the fertile loess area of the province Germania inferior. Furthermore, the crops that were important in the Iron Age remained so in the Roman period. The production of a surplus of cereals in Tiel-Passewaaij or the Dutch River Area can therefore not be inferred from the botanical remains. However, several large granaries appeared in Tiel-Passewaaij, and also in many of the other excavated rural settlements of the Dutch River Area.

The settlements in Tiel-Passewaaij had 33 hectares of streamridge available as potential arable land. This area was perhaps extended in the 2nd century, when parts of the adjacent flood basin were drained by the construction of ditches (enclosures). When the population had reached its optimal size, 33 hectares of streamridge was probably just enough to supply its own needs, assuming that the simplest system of two-course rotation was used. In this system, one year of growing cereals is followed by one fallow year.

Harvest time was probably the most labour-intensive time of the year, because the harvest had to be collected in a short period of time (c. 14 days if summer cereals only were grown). Based on information presented by Gregg (1988, 162), it is assumed that one person needed four days to harvest one hectare. To harvest 15 ha of streamridge (in a two-course rotation system), at least five, but probably more, people had a full-time job for 14 days. Ploughing with cattle is also time-consuming, but could be spread out over time. This task did not require labour from outside the community. Threshing is another task that could be extended over a longer period. Cereals could be threshed with flails or by animals.

Quantification models, based on yearly needs for consumption and the available land, show that this system left only a few hectares of the streamridge that could be used for surplus production (Groot et al. in press). The main threat to agriculture in the Roman period was soil exhaustion and a resulting decrease in cereal produce. Manuring and regular fallow periods of the fields had to prevent soil exhaustion. Nevertheless, a decline in population is visible in the Dutch River Area from the end of the 2nd century. Groenman-Van Waateringe (1989) has blamed this population decrease on declining cereal yields as a result of soil exhaustion caused by intensive land use. In Tiel-Passewaaij, however, the population decline coincides with an increase in storage capacity. The storage capacity of granaries now exceeded by several times the maximum yield of 30 hectares of arable land. This leads Groot et al. (in press) to assume that part of this storage capacity was used to store animal fodder.


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Last updated: Tue Nov 10 2009