Original Article

Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 41-52

First online:

New evidence for the consumption of barley at Romano-British military and civilian sites, from the analysis of cereal bran fragments in faecal material

  • Kate BrittonAffiliated withDepartment of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyDepartment of Archaeology, Durham University Email author 
  • , Jacqui HuntleyAffiliated withEnglish Heritage North East

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Despite the abundance of barley in the archaeobotanical record at Roman military sites along Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, and the suitability of the British climate for growing the grain, contention still remains concerning the human consumption of this cereal in the Roman world. Previous experimental and archaeological work has demonstrated that cereal bran fragments in faecal material can be successfully assigned to species. Here, microscopic analysis of plant fragments is utilised to investigate the relative abundance of Triticum/Secale (wheat/rye), Hordeum (barley) and Avena (oats) from faecal deposits from two Roman military sites and a contemporary civilian settlement in Carlisle. Cereal bran was identified in all deposits, along with certain other edible plant fragments such as Coriandrum sativum (coriander) and Allium sp. (onion genus). The presence of barley in deposits from military sites appears to confirm its consumption, with the frequency and size of fragments hinting at likely occasional culinary use in soups and stews. Increased frequency at the contemporary civilian site indicates more widespread culinary use in non-military settlements. The practical and analytical limitations of this method are discussed.


Roman military diet Cereal bran Barley Faecal material Northern England Hadrian’s Wall