Towards a Social Geography of Cultivation and Plant Use in an Early Farming Community: Vaihingen an der Enz, South-West Germany

By Bogaard, Amy; Krause, Rudiger et al. | Antiquity, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Towards a Social Geography of Cultivation and Plant Use in an Early Farming Community: Vaihingen an der Enz, South-West Germany


Bogaard, Amy, Krause, Rudiger, Strien, Hans-Christoph, Antiquity


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Introduction

In this paper we consider how early farming practice and plant use articulated with social relationships--within an individual longhouse, a household group or neighbourhood, local community or wider regional network. Although the material culture of the early Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK) is remarkably uniform over its enormous geographical range, from Ukraine to the Paris basin, close artefactual analysis suggests a complex web of identities that variously bound communities together and threatened to break them apart. A large archaeobotanical dataset resulting from extensive sampling of a virtually complete LBK settlement at Vaihingen an der Enz, south-west Germany (Krause 1995, 2000, 2003) provides the opportunity to consider how these social links and 'fault-lines' enabled and constrained central aspects of daily life such as farming practice and plant use.

The LBK (c. 5600-5000 cal BC) is one of the best studied material culture complexes in European prehistory, and hundreds of sites have been investigated archaeobotanically (Willerding 1980; Kreuz 1990, 2007; Knorzer 1997). As a result, the spectra of crops and wild plants typically associated with the LBK are well known, particularly in the central and western part of its distribution. The bulk of the evidence represents crop material; amongst the crops, the chaff and grain of einkorn (Triticum monococcum) and emmer wheat (T. dicoccum) are ubiquitous, and a third recently defined new type' of hulled wheat (Jones etal. 2000b) has been recognised at some sites, including Vaihingen. Two pulses, pea (Pisum sativum) and lentil (Lens culinaris), are commonly found, plus oil-seed plants--flax (Linum usitatissimum, potentially also used for fibre) and, in the later LBK, opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). The wild plants accompanying these crops are mostly arable weeds that grew and were harvested with them; some of these species were also used in their own right, such as fat hen (Chenopodium album), caches of which have been found at multiple LBK sites. Nuts such as hazelnut [Corylus avellana) and fruits such as strawberry (Fragaria vesca) are also common. Parts of other plants may have been used as adornment, such as the bristles or awns of feathergrass (Stipa). All of this material is preserved through charring, which biases assemblages towards certain types of plants (e.g. stored and frequently processed plant foods that routinely came into contact with domestic fires) and also towards certain plant parts with dense tissues.

There is now widespread discussion of the ways in which the material culture and distinctive practices of the LBK perpetuated social identities at different scales, from individuals to households, house clusters and wider social networks (e.g. Modderman 1988; Whittle 1996, 2003; Gronenborn 1999; Liming et al. 2005; Hofmann & Bickle 2009). In order to assess the sociality of routine practices surrounding food production and consumption, archaeobotanical data, alongside other bioarchaeological datasets, need to be integrated with these artefactual analyses.

Agency of farming

One way in which plants were caught up in the expression of social roles and identities is through the agency of farming practice. Did different work groups (households or other groupings) manage cultivation more or less identically, or were there distinctive ways of doing things (tillage, sowing, use of midden/manure material, weeding during the growing season etc.)? And how did the social geography of the settlement space map onto the wider landscape?

While the spatial configuration and social contours of farming areas are difficult to access directly through archaeological evidence, considerable work has been done on LBK settlement space. Study of longhouse distribution and chronology suggests a principle of proximal replacement within circumscribed areas (the so-called Hofplatz model; Boelicke et al. …

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