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Ancient Cultivations

  • E. Cecil Curwen

The ability to recognize the traces of ancient cultivation is essential to all students of earthworks and field-workers. The scope of our study is being widened, so that we are interested not merely in fortifications but in any kind of interference with the surface soil resulting from man’s activities in the past. It would be purely an arbitrary distinction to be interested in a hill-fort and not in the surface traces of an agricultural village of the same date, and these same surface traces consist very largely in lynchets, or cultivation terraces, the presence of which is often the sole clue to the site of the settlement.

It is a matter of observation that agricultural processes at different periods may leave quite distinct and separate kinds of traces on the ground. This depends on the kind of plough used, and on different habits with regard to the shape, size, and outlay of the fields. The one feature that is common to most ancient fields is the tendency to form terraces on sloping ground, due to the way in which the soil creeps downhill under the influence of ploughing and rain-wash, forming an accumulation along the lower edges of the plot.

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1 The cacophonous and ungrammatical ‘lay-out’, an Americanism chiefly patronized by mushroom estate agents, is to be deprecated.

2 The present paper is intended to supplement what was said in my paper in ANTIQUITY, 1927, 1, 261289, to which the reader is referred for much ground-work.

3 Antiquaries Journal, 11, 21–3,

4 The site is unfortunately marred by military trenches dug during the War, resulting in the complete destruction of one of the triangular patches and the obscuring of much of the rest.

5 Curwen, E.C., Air Photography and Economie History(Economie History Soc. Pamphlet no. 2).

6 ANTIQUITY, 1928, 2, 85–7.

7 Gudmund Hatt, ‘Prehistoric Fields in Jylland’ (Jutland), published in English in Acta Archaeologica, 2, pt. 2, 117158,Illustrated with photographs and two plans. (Copenhagen, Levin and Munksgaard, 1931).

* Including the writer of this article and his father.—EDITOR.

* Precisely similar pit-and-bank groups are found on the limestone uplands of the Cotswolds, and were formerly mistaken for pit-dwellings. Good examples may be seen between Avening and Nailsworth and on Minchinhampton and Selsley Commons. Dr Hatt’s explanation was put forward by me quite independently many years ago, but I do not think I ever published it. It is satisfactory to find that it is supported by the Danish evidence.—O.G.S.C.

8 Léon, Aufrère, ‘Les Rideaux : étude topographique’, published in Annales de Géographie, (Paris, 1929), 38, 529560, illustrated.

9 The author uses respectively the terms remblai and entaille for this.

10 The scale given for fig. 5 is evidently an error due to the plan having been reduced by the editor more than the author intended. Instead of ‘1:5000’ the scale seems to be approximately 1 :6000. A drawn scale would have obviated this error, and have been easier to use.

11 Eckford, R., ‘On Certain Terrace Formations in the South of Scotland and on the English Side of the Border‘, Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., 62, 107–20; Hannah, W.W.T.The Romanno Terraces : their Origin and Purpose’, op. cit., 65, 388–98.

12 ANTIQUITY, 5, 351–4.

* According to Seebohm(Customary Acres, 109-10), the furrow of the Scottish customary acre was 235 yds. (227 m.), while the Northumbrian was 280 yds. (256 m.).

* The blurring of this photograph is due to its having been taken from a moving charabanc—the only chance of getting it at all.

13 ANTIQUITY, 2, 168–72; III, 165—81.

14 Ibid, V, 351–4.

15 Ibid, III, 181.

16 1, 261, 269.

17 Stat. Account of Scotland, 6, 288–9 (I793).

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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