Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 179–186 | Cite as

Early medieval farming and food production: a review of the archaeobotanical evidence from archaeological excavations in Ireland

  • Meriel McClatchie
  • Finbar McCormick
  • Thomas R. Kerr
  • Aidan O’Sullivan
Original Article


Agriculture played an important role in the organisation of economy and society in early medieval Ireland (cal ad 400–1150). This paper examines archaeobotanical evidence for agricultural production and consumption, incorporating newly available data. Analysis of evidence from 60 sites revealed that hulled barley and oat were the dominant crops of this period. Naked wheat was present at many sites, but was not the primary crop in most cases. Rye was a minor crop in all locations where recorded. Other crops—including flax, pea and bean—were occasionally present. These crop choices provide a contrast with evidence from many other regions in contemporary Europe. In the case of Ireland, there is increased evidence for crops during the second half of the early medieval period, both in terms of the number of sites where remains were recovered and also the variety of crops cultivated; this may reflect a shift towards a greater emphasis on arable agriculture. The contribution of documentary sources and scientific analyses towards investigating food products is also highlighted in this study.


Ireland Agriculture Archaeobotany Early medieval 



This research was undertaken as part of the Early Medieval Archaeology Project (EMAP; see for project details and reports). We gratefully acknowledge that EMAP and the research for this paper were supported by the Heritage Council under the Irish National Strategic Archaeological Research (INSTAR) programme, funded by the National Monuments Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The following archaeologists and archaeobotanists are thanked for drawing our attention to relevant sites, and for providing access to excavation and specialist reports: Edward Bourke, Lisa Coyle, James Eogan, Ann Frykler, Lorcan Harney, Susan Lyons, Jerry O’Sullivan, Orlaith Egan, Rónán Swan, Richard O’Brien, Gill Plunkett, Martin Reid, Matthew Seaver, Michael Stanley and Scott Timpany. We also thank the editor and two reviewers of this paper for their useful comments.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 462 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meriel McClatchie
    • 1
  • Finbar McCormick
    • 2
  • Thomas R. Kerr
    • 2
  • Aidan O’Sullivan
    • 1
  1. 1.UCD School of ArchaeologyUniversity College DublinDublin 4Republic of Ireland
  2. 2.School of Geography, Archaeology and PalaeoecologyQueen’s University BelfastBelfastUK

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