The Work

Specialist Report 2004 - Charred Plant Remains

Posted by steven on 27/04/2005 at 08:14 PM


Peter Rowley-Conwy - University of Durham

C 001 disturbed

Six samples of cereals are available from this context, HP 0024, 0025, 0026, 0027, 0028 and 0029.  All contain considerable quantities of barley, Hordeum vulgare.  Preservation is for the most part very good indeed, and many of the grains are clearly hulled.  No definitely naked grains were observed, but it is quite possible that some naked grains were present but not seen during the scan, and/or that some of the less well preserved grains might have been naked.  No other species of cereal was detected, but again it is possible that some are present.  What can be said with considerable confidence is that the samples comprise overwhelmingly hulled barley.

The image above shows charred barley grains (hulled), while below are fragments of burnt hazel nut shell

A small sample of hazel nut shell fragments is also present.

C 002 and C 003 trench 1

Single large samples are available from each of these (HP 0072 and 0083).  These are dominated by hulled barley, in all respects similar to the samples described above.  Small samples of hazel nut shell fragments are also present from both.

Smaller samples

Smaller samples comprising a few barley grains and a few hazel nut shell fragments are available as follows:

C 004 trench 1
C 005 trench 1
C 006 trench 1
C 007 trench 1
C 008 trench 1 (hazel only, no barley)

Preliminary discussion

Samples C 001, 002 and 003 are large and pure.  The similarity suggests that despite being from a disturbed context, C 001 can really be considered as a primary sample, not a later chance inclusion.

The purity of the samples as they stand is remarkable.  It will be necessary to consider whether methods of recovery might have influenced this (e.g. were some small weed seeds sieved out?) – but it can be stated that the barley is certainly not a waste product.  This sort of sample is usually encountered only when a store of cleaned grain has been accidentally burnt down, or some similar accident has taken place.

It is on the face of it hard to see how such an accident could be responsible for these samples, given their location inside High Pasture Cave.  One possibility worth examining is therefore that these cereals are in some way a ‘ritual’ deposit, analogous to the pig bones from the same contexts.

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