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Palynology of Iron Age and Gallo-Roman archaeological sediments from Beaurieux Les Grèves, Aisne, France

Innes, James B., Haselgrove, Colin C.
Vegetation history and archaeobotany 2019 v.28 no.4 pp. 399-416
abandoned land, animal husbandry, anthropogenic activities, archaeology, deforestation, environmental impact, farming systems, fungal spores, land use, landscapes, palynology, pastures, pollen, sediments, shrublands, woodlands, France
Pollen and non-pollen palynomorph analyses conducted on archaeological sediments from ditches and pits are used to investigate land-use and vegetation history around the long-lived rural settlement of Beaurieux Les Grèves in the Aisne valley, Picardy, northern France. Samples were examined from successive phases spanning the 8th century BC to the 3rd century AD. Each phase showed evidence of agriculture and human impact on the environment. The earliest occupation was during the early Iron Age, and the area around the site was shown to have been almost completely deforested and mainly pasture. The later Iron Age supported mixed agriculture, probably with pasture around the settlement site and cereal fields further away. In Gallo-Roman times there was mixed farming with considerable cereal cultivation, although the area near the site was mainly pasture or abandoned land. Late Gallo-Roman times saw a reduction in agricultural activity and some regeneration of heath and scrub vegetation. Coprophilous fungal spores are conspicuous and indicate the importance of animal husbandry on and around the site. The data from Beaurieux Les Grèves augment earlier analyses from settlements and natural deposits in the Aisne valley in suggesting almost complete deforestation for agricultural land use within the valley bottom, although some woodland undoubtedly survived on the steeper valley sides and nearby plateaux. It agrees with the pollen evidence from the wider region of north-eastern France that shows clearance of Fagus-dominated woodland for mixed agriculture in late Iron Age and Gallo-Roman times, and increasingly for arable cultivation. This was responsible for effecting a transformation from a partly wooded to a mainly open landscape.