Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 821–840 | Cite as

The history of early cereal cultivation in northernmost Fennoscandia as indicated by palynological research

  • Torbjörn Josefsson
  • Per H. Ramqvist
  • Greger Hörnberg
Review Article


The age of the introduction of cereal cultivation in northern Europe has long been debated by researchers from many disciplines, in particular archaeology and palaeoecology. Over the past 40 years extensive palynological data have been collected concerning pre-industrial land use in northern Fennoscandia. This paper reviews palynological studies that include records of fossil cereal pollen from northernmost Sweden, Finland and Norway at latitudes north of 63°N. The geographical extent of known early cultivation sites is constantly expanding, with more than 100 records of cereal pollen pre-dating ad 1700. The oldest records of scattered cereal pollen derive from Neolithic times. Periods of continuous cultivation, indicated by cereal pollen recorded recurrently in the sediment profiles, derive from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Collectively, the reviewed pollen records indicate that cereal cultivation was first introduced into areas close to the coast and later to the interior, and that it may have been practiced locally long before sedentary settlements based on intensive cultivation were established during medieval times. The data do not indicate a latitudinal spread of cultivation from south to north. However, methodological problems relating to pollen morphology of cereals, site characteristics and lack of connections to archaeologically excavated sites imply that the value of many early cereal pollen finds remains unclear. To increase our understanding of the context in which cereal cultivation was introduced in northernmost Fennoscandia, multidisciplinary studies integrating palaeoecology, archaeology and history are needed.


Pollen Cerealia Hordeum Agriculture Land use Scandinavia Fennoscandia 



We wish to thank our fellow colleagues within the research program “Recalling the past” for valuable discussions, and two anonymous reviewers for very useful and much appreciated comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. The English has been corrected by Sees-Editing, UK. This study was financially supported by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Fund (grant no. M11-0361:1) and the Centre for Environmental Research (CMF) in Umeå.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 56 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Torbjörn Josefsson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Per H. Ramqvist
    • 2
    • 3
  • Greger Hörnberg
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Forest Ecology and ManagementSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUmeåSweden
  2. 2.Institute for Subarctic Landscape ResearchArjeplogSweden
  3. 3.Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious StudiesUmeå UniversityUmeåSweden

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