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Midden cultivation in prehistoric Britain: arable crops in gardens

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This paper summarizes some of the geoarchaeological evidence for early arable agriculture in Britain and Europe, and introduces new evidence for small-scale but very intensive cultivation in the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age in Scotland. The Scottish examples demonstrate that, from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, midden heaps were sometimes ploughed in situ ; this means that, rather than spreading midden material onto the fields, the early farmers simply ran an ard over their compost heaps and sowed the resulting plots. The practice appears to have been common in Scotland, and may also have occurred in England. Neolithic cultivation of a Mesolithic midden is suggested, based on thin-section analysis of the middens at Northton, Harris. The fertility of the Mesolithic middens may partly explain why Neolithic farmers re-settled Mesolithic sites in the Northern and Western Isles.

Keywords: Midden; Neolithic; agriculture; farming; manuring; prehistory

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Archaeology, University of Reading, UK

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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