Dropping by and oats and rye at Lyminge

What better way to spend a fine summer’s day than visiting the fine fields of south-east Kent? Where the fields are ripe with swaying golden corn, and Anglo-Saxon archaeology? Yes, it’s Lyminge, and it was well worth spending seven+ hours on the train to visit this year’s dig.

Cereals growing on the outskirts of Lyminge - no, I didn't take any for charring and identifying...
Cereals growing on the outskirts of Lyminge – no, I didn’t take any for charring and identifying…
Saxo-Norman ditch
Saxo-Norman ditch in this year’s trench

As ever, you can follow the story in detail on the project’s excellent blog. In brief, this year they’ve unearthed more of the turn-of-the-7th century high-status complex that made Beowulfine headlines last year – all kingly feasting, roistering, and – apparently – Ray Winstone. Besides this, there’s a Saxo-Norman (c.11th-12th century) boundary ditch and rubbish/latrine pits, a medieval field boundary, and WWII huts whose dismantlement might unfortunately have obliterated part of an Anglo-Saxon building(!!).

But anyway, the most exciting thing for Farming Unearthed is that environmental remains are still coming thick and fast. I was privileged to see some of the (metaphorically) juicy flots from the environmental processing, and to hear about the burgeoning faunal dataset – something like 300,000 bones from the campaigns to date, if I heard correctly. It seems that sheep become particularly abundant in the site’s monastic phase, which – if there’s good evidence for a special wool-bearing flock (e.g. lots of mature wethers)  – would make for a neat parallel with Middle Saxon Brandon in Suffolk and North Elmham in Norfolk, both ecclesiastical (see e.g. Crabtree 2012).

All of which raises the question of whether  – and how – arable production changed in this same period. In earlier posts, I’ve discussed evidence for sheaves and spelt, but haven’t much mentioned the four main cereal crops that constitute much the 10 samples that I studied. Well, here goes. Feast your eyes on this preliminary diagram:

Rainbow effect: a range of cereals to make Mr Kellogg  proud
Rainbow effect: a range of cereals at Lyminge to make Mr Kellogg proud

There’s a lot that one could say about this diagram (I stress that it’s preliminary – please don’t write in). But the most striking feature, I think, is diversity: samples 2 and 42 are clearly wheat-heavy, 3, 26 and 53 barley-heavy. Most notable, however, are samples 24 and 30, which are very dense, abundant samples, and which contain notably high proportions of oat and rye. In my doctoral research, I’ve come across very few sites at which oat and rye are so well-represented relative to wheat and barley. The chief exception, oddly enough, is Middle Saxon Ipswich – the proto-urban craft and trading settlement:

Monochrome, but not monocrop - 17 samples from Ipswich
Monochrome, but not monocrop? – 17 samples from Ipswich (with thanks to P. Murphy)

What significance, if any, could we attach to this observation?

We shall see, perhaps, in the next post. Meanwhile, if you have the chance, pay a visit to Lyminge. The excavation runs for another three weeks, and there’s an excellent, informative site tour every Saturday at 2pm (and even a full-blown open day next Saturday, 17th).



Crabtree, P. (2012). Middle Saxon Animal Husbandry in East Anglia (East Anglian Archaeology 143, Bury St Edmunds).

…& thanks to Gabor, Simon, Alexandra & Zoe!

2 Replies on “Dropping by and oats and rye at Lyminge

  1. Really interesting summary of a project that seems to have turned up amazing new discoveries every time I read about it. Also good to learn of Pam Crabtree’s book with the proposition that sheep farming came to the fore under monastic auspices in the seventh century. I’ve drawn the same conclusion for the monastery at Chertsey, sadly not from faunal remains but by matching its recorded landholdings with early medieval coin finds and then applying a bit of topographical common sense to posit the most credible reason for people to be carrying/exchanging coinage in such places. Perhaps if I continue to follow the money I will end up finding the bones…

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