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Middle-Neolithic agricultural practices in the Oldenburger Graben wetlands, northern Germany: First results of the analysis of arable weeds and stable isotopes

Filipović, Dragana, Brozio, Jan Piet, Ditchfield, Peter, Klooß, Stefanie, Müller, Johannes, Kirleis, Wiebke
TheHolocene 2019 v.29 no.10 pp. 1587-1595
Holocene epoch, Triticum turgidum subsp. dicoccon, agricultural land, arable soils, arid lands, barley, carbon, crops, farmers, habitat preferences, land use, life history, nitrogen, stable isotopes, tillage, weed control, weeds, wetlands, Baltic Sea, Germany
A number of small middle-Neolithic (3300–2800 BC) settlements flourished in the Oldenburger Graben area of northern Germany. The excavations yielded large amounts of crop remains, suggesting that agrarian production was a cornerstone of subsistence economy. Until about 3000 BC, Oldenburger Graben was a fjord, which over time was separated from the Baltic Sea and became a lagoon. The location of the settlement in the wetlands would have been highly favourable, offering a range of terrestrial and aquatic resources. Nonetheless, it may have been challenging to the Neolithic farmers, as perhaps not much dry land was available for crop growing. The success of agrarian production likely depended on the methods employed. This is an initial attempt at reconstructing strategies of agricultural land use during the middle-Neolithic occupation of the Oldenburger Graben lowland. We combine information on the habitat preferences and life history of arable weeds, and the recently obtained carbon and nitrogen stable isotope values on crop grains from one of the sites. The evidence allows us to glean practices that crop cultivation may have entailed, including potential strategies aimed at improving productivity of arable land such as tillage, weeding and manuring. Although preliminary, the observations point at potentially different management of emmer and barley, perhaps due to their variable importance to the Neolithic residents. This is the first time that stable isotope analysis on crops from northern Germany is used to elucidate agricultural practices of the Funnelbeaker communities of the middle-Neolithic.