Fyfe, Ralph M., Brown, Anthony G. and Rippon, Stephen J.
Characterising the late prehistoric, 'Romano-British' and medieval landscape, and dating the emergence of a regionally distinct agricultural system in South West Britain
Journal of Archaeological Science, 31, (12), . (doi:10.1016/j.jas.2004.05.003).
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Palaeoenvironmental evidence for the character of lowland cultural landscapes during the last 2500 years in Britain is poorly
understood, owing to a combination of an over-reliance on data from upland sequences, and because lowland mires are typically
located in positions marginal to areas of settlement and agriculture. This paper presents an attempt to derive environmental evidence
for this time period from a lowland context in order to characterise the key periods of change and continuity in the lowlands. The
study focuses on mid-Devon, in South West Britain, and uses small pollen sites which are embedded within the historic landscape.
The South West is a particularly poor region for lowland environmental data, and has until now been reliant on upland sequences.
The results show that continuity, rather than abrupt change, has characterised the landscape from the later Iron Age to the early
medieval period (around cal AD 800). There is no palynologically distinct Roman period in the data, contrary to evidence from the
high uplands of Exmoor that suggests a decline of the agricultural system during the immediate post-Roman period. Around cal AD
800 there is a change in the agricultural system from predominantly pastoral activities to one that led to relatively high proportions
of cereal pollen appearing in the sequences, which is interpreted here as marking the onset of convertible husbandry, a regionally
distinct agricultural system which is recorded from AD 1350, but whose origins are not documented. This agricultural system
remained in place until the post-medieval period, when the predominant agricultural regime returned to pastoralism around AD
1750. The data clearly show discrepancies between the high uplands and the lowlands, demonstrating the potential hazards of
extrapolating upland sequences to lowlands environments.
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