Unlike their counterparts in other parts of the British Isles and Europe, early Scottish farmers did not use dung to fertilize their fields.
According to a study published in the journal AntiquityIn this study, researchers analyzed grain retrieved from a 6000-year-old Neolithic site in Balbury, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Balbridie is the site of a Neolithic tall house located on the south bank of the River Dee. The site is one of the oldest known permanent settlements from the Neolithic period in Scotland, dating from between 3400 and 4000 BC.
The first Scottish farmers did not use fertilizers
Balbridie was first excavated between 1977 and 1981 after aerial photographs taken by the Royal Commission on Antiquities and Historic Scotland, which identified signs of culture during a dry summer in 1976.
A large amount of ancient grain was recovered, which a team of researchers studied using stable isotope analysis. Plant growth conditions influence carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios, suggesting that early Scottish farmers in Balbridie did not use manure to fertilize their fields.
“Stable isotope analysis revealed very low levels of nitrogen, which indicates that the crops were not grown in fertilized soil,” said lead author Dr Bishop, from the University of Stavanger in Norway, adding that “the large size and number of grains recovered indicates that during this first phase From cultivation the soil was productive without the need for fertilization.”
Eventually the compost was used all over Scotland
In contrast, previous research on early plantations in England, as well as continental Europe, almost always found evidence of crop placement in cultivated fields. This shows that during the first phase of Neolithic agriculture, parts of Scotland were very suitable for agriculture, notes Heritage Daily.
However, not all early farmers avoided manure. The team also looked at the contemporary Dubton Farm site in Angus and found that manure had been used there.
In fact, manure eventually became the norm in Scotland. Dr. Bishop and his team also looked at later Neolithic plantations in Orkney at the Skara Brae and Brae sites at Habrik, dating from 3300-2400 BC. They found that compost was used. The researchers also found that Orkney farmers used permanent plots of land over a larger area than expected.
Early Scottish farmers shared their resources
“The evidence showed that they planted their crops in permanent fields,” said Dr. Bishop. Other researchers have suggested that Neolithic farmers in Britain cultivated small, passing fields, often moving their plots to new areas of land, or that they were a semi-nomadic population who did not farm every year. But the current study shows that this was not the case in Scotland.
“At one Orkney site, we were able to show that early Scottish farmers planted their crops in a wide range of different soil types, suggesting that they either planted their crops extensively around the site or that different farms stored their crops in a communal silo,” added Dr Bishop.
Such extensive landscaping use and potential pooling of resources would also help protect against crop failure, a constant threat in Orkney’s harsh environment. Ancient farmers were able to develop diverse sustainable strategies for different conditions.
Present and future strategies
“The diversity of crop strategies identified highlights the adaptability of early farming practices,” said Dr Bishop, referring to the range of farming practices he identified in Scotland. This raises the possibility that further research in other regions will reveal similar diversity. Perhaps more early farmers were able to avoid using manure.
The team hopes that research like this can still help us today: “The potential for stable isotope analysis of grains to learn about sustainable (and unsustainable) land use in other parts of the world can provide lessons for managing future human impacts on the environment,” he said. Dr. Bishop.
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