Manuring

manuring. A third way is by the collection of dung from byres in which animals were kept in winter,

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which would then be spread over the fields before early spring ploughing. Certainly one or other method would be used before either autumn, winter or spring ploughing. If an animal is corralled overnight, most of its dung can be collected without too much effort; Peter Reynolds's calculation of dung production per cow per day is an average of 25kg.104 At Danebury, the dung of sheep, which is manure of high quality, was invaluable in its addition of nutrients to the thin chalk downland soils.105 The benefits of manuring were recognized long before the Iron Age. The dung of goats, sheep and horses was probably valued most, followed by that of cattle and pigs. As well as being applied directly to the fields, manure could first be burned and its ash spread onto the arable land. Burning dung was also a useful source of fuel: this practice is widespread in Europe and beyond, from India to Iceland. It was a common source of fuel in Scandinavia and northern Britain.106 Traditionally, dung is collected by women and fashioned into 'cakes' or 'bricks' for burning. I have witnessed women rolling dung in this way on the edge of the Nile at Tel el Amarna in southern Egypt. That dung was likely to have been put to this use in Iron Age Britain is suggested by the identification of dried-out cow-dung at the pre-Roman

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Iron Age site of Hawk's Hill in Surrey. The dung was probably stored for a while before use, since the drier it was the better it would burn and, in any case, fresh dung damages the grass on which it lies.108

Ploughing, reaping and threshing

The Bronze Age rock art of Scandinavia and Camonica Valley depicts scenes of ploughing, using a simple plough or ard drawn by a pair of cattle. One Camunian scene shows two oxen drawing the plough, accompanied by the ploughman, who is walking behind. Two other men are also depicted, one in front of the animals, the other behind the ploughman. The individual at the animal's head carries a kind of mattock or hoe, as does the person at the rear of the group; the leading man also bears a twig or branch (figure 2.17).109 Reynolds has observed a similar scene in present-day rural Spain, where peasants break up the clods of earth before and behind the plough and where one man walks by the animal's head to brush off flies with a kind of fly-whisk or swatter. In the Camunian scene, the ploughman carries a stick, which is generally interpreted as a goad, to keep the cattle moving. But in Spain a stick is used by the ploughman to free the point of the plough periodically, as it becomes bogged down in heavy soil.

The evidence for Iron Age ploughs is scanty, because they were made of wood and do not generally survive, though by the third century BC in

Britain, ard-shares were tipped with iron and these parts sometimes turn up as finds on sites.110 We do have the evidence of the rock art, where the plough is depicted as a simple angled spike or 'ard'. Wooden ards like those carved on the rocks are found preserved in the waterlogged conditions of peatbogs, especially in Denmark: the Donnerupland ard, found in a Danish marsh, has been reconstructed and used in experimental farming, where it was found to be extremely efficient.111 In Britain, evidence for Iron Age ploughs exists mainly in the form of score-marks; an ox-drawn ard was used at 112

Danebury. The simple plough or ard was an uncomplicated implement consisting of a wooden shaft ending in a spike set at an angle, sometimes iron-tipped, which simply stirred and made furrows in the soil. The ard is distinctive in possessing no mouldboard or coulter for turning over the earth. However, there is some evidence from the later Iron Age that fairly heavy soils were none the less being exploited

Figure 2.17 Ploughing scene, on a Bronze Age or Iron Age rock carving at Camonica Valley, north Italy. Paul Jenkins, after Anati.

Cattle or horses could be used in ploughing: the bone evidence of horses suggests that they were sometimes used for this purpose. Again, a later Iron Age Camunian rock-art scene depicts a plough pulled by horses.114 But most farmers undoubtedly used cattle for traction (figure 2.18). The presence of middle-aged or elderly cattle on archaeological sites implies that they were worked before they were eaten. Such is the case at the habitation site of Variscourt; and at the sanctuary of Gournay, the cattle had undoubtedly been used as working animals before they were sacrificed to the infernal gods.115 For successful ploughing, it is necessary to have a pair of specially trained animals, with the correct size to power ratio. Peter Reynolds has calculated that the average Celtic field (for which there is archaeological evidence in Britain) can be ploughed in a single day.116 The cattle used for traction were probably kept apart from the herd, controlled and specially tended.

At the Butser experimental farm, two of the slender, long-legged

Dexter cattle were trained as a working pair for ploughing. It takes about two years to train these animals

to work in unison as a team, yoked together, to pull a light ard. Reynolds has found that cattle are difficult to train and can be quite intractable, requiring a considerable period of handling before being introduced to each other, the yoke or the plough. What is interesting about the work at Butser is the conclusion that many plough teams may well have been cows rather than oxen, because they are more amenable to training. The two animals could be yoked together by either a neck or a horn yoke: both methods were used in the Iron Age and are indeed both still employed in modern peasant farming.118

Figure 2.18 Rock carving at Camonica Valley, depicting two oxen pulling a plough. Paul Jenkins.

Animals were also required for their pulling-power at harvest time. Certainly, by the Romano-Celtic period, reaping-machines pulled by horses, donkeys or mules were known in northern Gaul and depicted on such stone sculpture as that from Reims and Buzenol-Montauban.119 After the corn had been cut, oxen or horses would be needed to carry the harvested crop away from the fields to the farm for processing and storage. The scenes on the rocks at Camonica show a number of light, four-wheeled wagons pulled by horses or cattle (figure 2.19). These vehicles could represent the transport of corn, hay 120

or other produce.

After harvesting, the grain had to be extracted from the raw corn. Although threshing can be carried out efficiently with flails, it can also be done by allowing farm animals to trample over the harvested 121

corn. Right through the farming year, therefore, from the initial manuring of the fields and ploughing to the harvest and even after, animals were closely linked with humans in nearly every aspect of crop production.

Figure 2.19 Wagon-pulling scene on a rock carving at Camonica Valley. Paul Jenkins. WOOL

Their wool is rough and thin at the ends, and from it they weave the thick sag [coats] which they call laenae; but the Romans have succeeded even in the more northerly parts in raising flocks of sheep (clothing them in sheepskin) with a fairly fine wool.122

So wrote Strabo of wool production in Celtic Gaul. There is no doubt that the raising of sheep for wool was an important aspect of the Iron Age economy. Unlike milk, wool production is not dependent on either the age or sex of the animal. The faunal evidence indicates that large numbers of sheep were kept for wool and only killed for food long after the optimum time for meat had passed. In any case, compared to cattle and pigs, the meat yield of sheep is small. Wool production continued to be important

during the Roman period. Strabo comments upon the fame of Gaulish and British woollen blankets, and the Emperor Diocletian, at the end of the third century AD, levied a huge tax on the birrus Britannicus, a kind of woollen duffel-coat, and the tapete Britannicum, a rug used on saddles and

couches.

There must have been a well-organized wool-cloth industry during the Iron Age. Flocks would have been carefully managed and their size may have been strictly controlled. If an inhibition on mating was deemed desirable, the sexes could be separated by means of corralling or the rams could be fitted with an apron-like device to stop them from serving the ewes.126

If we assume that Iron Age sheep were basically of Soay type, then

Figure 2.19 Wagon-pulling scene on a rock carving at Camonica Valley. Paul Jenkins. WOOL

Their wool is rough and thin at the ends, and from it they weave the thick sag [coats] which they call laenae; but the Romans have succeeded even in the more northerly parts in raising flocks of sheep (clothing them in sheepskin) with a fairly fine wool.122

So wrote Strabo of wool production in Celtic Gaul. There is no doubt that the raising of sheep for wool was an important aspect of the Iron Age economy. Unlike milk, wool production is not dependent on either the age or sex of the animal. The faunal evidence indicates that large numbers of sheep were kept for wool and only killed for food long after the optimum time for meat had passed. In any case, compared to cattle and pigs, the meat yield of sheep is small. Wool production continued to be important

during the Roman period. Strabo comments upon the fame of Gaulish and British woollen blankets, and the Emperor Diocletian, at the end of the third century AD, levied a huge tax on the birrus Britannicus, a kind of woollen duffel-coat, and the tapete Britannicum, a rug used on saddles and

couches.

There must have been a well-organized wool-cloth industry during the Iron Age. Flocks would have been carefully managed and their size may have been strictly controlled. If an inhibition on mating was deemed desirable, the sexes could be separated by means of corralling or the rams could be fitted with an apron-like device to stop them from serving the ewes.126

If we assume that Iron Age sheep were basically of Soay type, then their wool could have been gathered either by plucking or by shearing. Soays shed naturally during June, so, if they were plucking wool, the farmers would have needed to gauge the best time to gather it, just

before it was rubbed off naturally. One sheep would produce only about 1kg of wool in a year, and a small family of two adults and three children might need as many as twenty Soay sheep to keep

themselves in clothes and blankets. Barry Cunliffe suggests that the sheep may have been plucked with the bone combs which are so common on Iron Age sites and which are generally designated

'weaving combs'. During the Iron Age there was an important technological advance in wool-winning with the invention of iron shears, which meant that the entire fleece could be removed and the farmers no longer needed to rely on the somewhat haphazard business of plucking during the annual

summer moult. Shears are common on Continental Iron Age sites but may not have been introduced into Britain until the Roman period.

To the Romans, Celtic wool was rough and coarse, but Diodorus Siculus mentions variegated colours,

which could have been natural or dyed. Soays are brown and white, but selected breeding may have produced particular colour traits. Very few remains of Celtic fleeces or wool are known archaeologically, but a complete fleece (arguing the use of shears) was found at Hallstatt in Austria, and a bog in north Germany has produced another, dating to around 500 BC. Wool fibres were embedded in the bronze of a funerary couch at the tomb of the Hallstatt prince at Hochdorf in Germany. The wool would have been hairy and relatively stiff, but some finer wool could have been

produced by controlled breeding. Soays have medium-heavy kemp hairs and a finer underwool; sheared fleeces result in a mixture of the coarse kemp hairs and the fine, soft underwool. Interestingly, although the texture of wool possibly did improve during the Roman period, some yarn which survives from the Roman fort of Vindolanda in north Britain, with its exceptional waterlogged preservation of organic remains, shows that the same hairy fibre was sometimes still being used.134

Figure 2.20 Clay ram figurine, found with the burial of a Romano-British infant, at Arrington, Cambridgeshire. By courtesy of Cambridgeshire County Council.

The shed wool of naturally moulting sheep probably led to the accidental discovery of both felting and spinning in antiquity: the wool would be rubbed off onto bushes by sheep and this process might sometimes have led to the winding of the discarded wool into long strands. Once the sheep had been plucked or sheared, the wool was cleaned and carded with bone or antler combs: the act of combing would ensure that the fibres lay straight. After that the wool was ready to be spun: spindle-whorls and bobbins survive on many Iron Age sites, including Glastonbury, which produced a great deal of evidence

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for wool production. The yarn was then woven into cloth on a vertical loom: weaving involves the interleaving of horizontal weft yarns over and under the stronger, vertical warp threads. The loom itself

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is merely a frame on which the warp yarn can be held taut.136 Loom-weights of clay or stone are common finds. Sites like Glastonbury have revealed evidence for all the stages of cloth-making: combs,

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spindle-whorls, bobbins and loom-weights.

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