5.5 Overview of the environmental evidence

E. Pearson

Little interpretation could be made of the single charred 6-row barley and oat grains from an early prehistoric deposit (0149.1), except that the presence of 6-row barley (Hordeum vulgare ssp. vulgare) infers a date of Neolithic or later. This is consistent with other early prehistoric deposits locally, which have generally contained only occasional charred cereal remains.

Environmental evidence for human activity during the Iron Age, in the form of animal bone and charred plant remains, was sparse although charcoal was widespread and more abundant. In the case of animal bones, this is largely a result of poor preservation in the light and slightly acid sandy soils, in which they do not survive well. The presence of mostly tooth fragments, which are more robust than bone, is characteristic of sites on this type of soil in north Worcestershire, for example at Top Barn Farm (Pearson 2004a), Church Farm Quarry in Holt (Edwards 1991), Retreat Farm (Jackson 1991) and Linacres Farm (Dalwood et al. 1998), both at Grimley, all to the south of Blackstone Quarry.

The low level of charred crop remains is consistent with a pattern for most farmsteads of Iron Age date in Worcestershire, and at Blackstone may be partly a result of poor preservation, but also probably of the dominance of pastoral agriculture as exists in the area today. This pattern has been commented on as being the case for much of the West Midlands generally (Archaeological Research Frameworks for the West Midlands; Pearson 2001). The exceptions to the pattern of sparse evidence of crop processing waste on farmsteads in Worcestershire are from sites further down the Severn Valley at Ryall Quarry, where exceptionally rich assemblages of charred cereal grain were recovered from storage pits of late Iron Age date (Pearson 2004b), and at Beckford, which is on a tributary of the River Avon (Colledge 1983a; 1983b). The reason why such large quantities were burnt is unclear, but it indicates a high level of social organisation in the processing of cereal crops. The location of the Ryall site on the River Severn close to the junction of the rivers Severn and Avon would have provided good communication links and may have made this a key distribution centre. At Beckford, charred cereal crop remains were relatively abundant in a roundhouse, and a small number of storage pits of middle Iron Age date (Colledge 1983a; 1983b). It has also been suggested that settlement types and land use in the Severn Valley north of Worcester and the Avon Valley may have been affected by valley form (Pearson 2001; Tony Brown pers. comm.). The Severn Valley north of Worcester is narrower, and the soils are not ideal for arable agriculture. The Avon Valley is, in contrast, wider with shallower slopes, which may be more conducive to extensive arable agriculture on the gravel terraces. Other sites where charred crop remains are more abundant are at hillforts, for example at Hanbury hillfort near Droitwich (Cook et al. 1998), Conderton Camp (Monckton 2005) on Bredon Hill, and in Herefordshire, at Midsummer Hill (Colledge 1981). In these cases, crop waste is probably more abundant because hillforts were used as storage centres for commodities such as cereal grain.

The charcoal evidence shows that a range of wood was used from tree species that are common in the Wyre Forest today. No spatial pattern in the deposition of different types of wood across the site was evident, and so little could be extrapolated from these data.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s) URL:
Last updated: Wed July 21 2010