Bective excavations Blog

Day 5 – Week one and a word from our archaeobotanist
July 9, 2011, 3:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Week 1 ended in a lot of rain in the morning, but there was some great work done in the afternoon. While it rained, Rosanne Meenan gave us a master class in the history of Irish pottery. All were spellbound by her lucid summary of her recent paper published by the Royal Irish Academy. In cutting H the trowelling of the building rubble layer produced some more beautiful tiles. It was a successful week!

Two floor tiles in situ in the rubble layer that is producing large numbers of tiles, a ridge tile and medieval pottery (photo Arlene Coogan).

  Archaeobotanical Results from Season 2010, Bective Abbey 2011, Week 1

Susan Lyons

Soil samples from 2010 are currently being processed for the removal of archaeobotanical material. The majority of these samples are associated with the corn drying kiln recorded at the site. The botanical remains being found are preserved by carbonisation or charring.

Carbonised plants recorded from archaeological sites are interpreted as the residual remains or charred debris from crop drying events. Some remains are found in the same place that they were charred (hearths, fires, kilns, ovens, burnt stores). More are found thinly spread and scattered across a wider area entering deposits such as occupational layers, pits and potholes for example. Over time, this material can move and be re-deposited due to disturbances such as soil movement, extreme climatic conditions, root penetration or worm/animal action. The carbonisation process obviously affects different species and plant components in different ways, where finer, lighter material can be destroyed more easily than larger elements. It most therefore be noted that the charred plant remains recovered from archaeological features can as much reflect the results of the carbonisation process as how and what plant remains were used on a site.

At this early stage of the archaeobotanical analysis, wheat and oat seem to be the dominant crops being dried at Bective Abbey. Wheat flour was of superior quality and was used to produce luxury bread, which was lighter than the coarser darker breads of oat and barley. Wheat was also known to be used in ale production. Oat produces coarser bread and is often combined with wheat, barley and rye to form a maslin mix. Oat was also used as animal fodder and became an economically viable crop in the brewing of beer and ale during the medieval period.

Evidence for beans and peas are also being recorded at Bective Abbey. Cultivated pulse crops are said to coincide with the Anglo-Norman era in Ireland dating to c. 1200 AD. One suggestion for the rise in the use of pulse crops or legumes during this period is the introduction of a crop rotation system, where crops familiar to the Anglo-Norman population would have been allowed to thrive in a controlled environment. Field legumes, such as vetches, also grew as wild species alongside cereals and are likely to have been collected with the gathered crop. These species would have been commonly used as animal fodder and during times of famine, as a human foodstuff. These species can also improve the quality of soils where the root nodules of legumes fix nitrogen to the soil which adds nutrients for plants such as cereals to grow.

Charred grain from the corn drying kiln.

Cereal chaff.


Peas from the monastic garden discovered in July 2010.



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