Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 41–52 | Cite as

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 BrittonEmail author
  • Jacqui Huntley
Original Article


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 



Research for this paper was completed in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Archaeology B.Sc. at the University of Durham by KB. Samples were provided by Durham Archaeological Services, Durham University and Oxford Archaeology. Thanks to Elizabeth Huckerby (Oxford Archaeology), Louisa Gidney and Charlotte O’Brien (Durham), Petra Dark (Reading) and also to Mike Church (Durham), Alex Brown (Reading) and two anonymous reviewers for comments and Stefanie Jacomet (Basel) for editorial critique. Thanks also to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Mike Richards and Jean-Jacques Hublin (MPI-EVA) and to the Natural Environment Research Council and Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst for professional and financial support during the preparation of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human EvolutionMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Department of ArchaeologyDurham UniversityDurhamUnited Kingdom
  3. 3.English Heritage North EastNewcastle upon TyneUnited Kingdom

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