Skip to main content

The Layout and Internal Development of Celtic Fields: Structural and Relative Chronological Analyses of Three Danish Field Systems

  • Nina Helt Nielsen (a1) (a2), Mads Kähler Holst (a1) (a3), Ann Catherine Gadd (a4) and Klaus Kähler Holst (a5)

The layout and development of field systems may reflect significant aspects of prehistoric societies such as agricultural strategies, use rights and inheritance practices. This article presents a method for analysing the developments of field systems in their entirety, based on a hierarchical sorting of field boundaries whose intersections have been used to define relations of equivalence and subordination. The formalized relational expression of the field system is analysed using a stochastic optimization algorithm. The method was successfully applied to three Danish Celtic fields from the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age, making it possible to identify five principles behind the layout: primary boundaries (probably established at community level), major parcels (administered at a household level), structured subdivisions (presumably related to inheritance), irregular subdivisions, and small-scale expansions of the field systems. The initial degree of regularity of the field systems seems to have influenced later modifications.

La configuration et l’évolution des « champs celtiques » peuvent révéler des aspects importants des sociétés préhistoriques telles que les stratégies de production agricole, les droits d'utilisation et les coutumes concernant les héritages. Cet article présente une méthode permettant d'analyser l’évolution des « champs celtiques » dans leur intégralité, sur la base d'un classement hiérarchique des limites de parcelles dont les intersections ont été utilisées pour définir leurs relations d’équivalence et de subordination. L'analyse de l'expression relationnelle formalisée du parcellaire se fait grâce à un algorithme d'optimisation stochastique. Cette méthode a été appliquée avec succès à trois « champs celtiques » au Danemark datant de la fin de l’âge du Bronze et du début de l’âge du Fer, ce qui nous a permis d'identifier cinq principes régissant la configuration des champs : limites primaires (probablement établies par les communautés), parcelles majeures (gérées au niveau des foyers), découpage structuré (vraisemblablement lié au patrimoine héréditaire), subdivisions irrégulières et croissance à petite échelle du système parcellaire. Le degré de régularité à l'origine de l'aménagement du terrain semble avoir influencé les modifications ultérieures. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

Der Aufbau und die Entwicklung von Ackersystemen können wesentliche Aspekte der urgeschichtlichen Gesellschaften, wie landwirtschaftliche Strategien, Landnutzungsgerechte oder Erbvorgänge zum Vorschein bringen. In diesem Artikel wird eine Methode, welche zur Untersuchung der Entwicklung von ganzen Ackersystemen beitragen kann; vorgelegt sie stützt sich auf die hierarchische Sortierung der Feldgrenzen, deren Kreuzungspunkte zur Bestimmung von Äquivalenzbeziehungen und Unterordnungsverhältnisse dienen. Der formalisierte Vergleichsausdruck der Flursysteme wird durch einen stochastischen Optimierungsalgorithmus analysiert. Diese Methode wurde erfolgreich zur Auswertung von drei dänischen spätbronzezeitlichen und früheisenzeitlichen Ackersystemen angewendet; dabei war es möglich fünf Grundregeln, welche die Anlage von Äckern bestimmen, zu identifizieren: vorrangige Grenzen (wahrscheinlich von Gemeinschaften eingerichtet), wesentliche Grundstücke (auf Haushaltsebene betrieben), strukturierte Untergliederung (vermutlich mit Erbschaft verbunden), unregelmäßige Unterteilungen, und Erweiterung der Flursysteme auf geringem Maβe. Die ursprüngliche Regelmäßigkeit der Ackersysteme scheint die späteren Änderungen beeinflusst zu haben. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The Layout and Internal Development of Celtic Fields: Structural and Relative Chronological Analyses of Three Danish Field Systems
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The Layout and Internal Development of Celtic Fields: Structural and Relative Chronological Analyses of Three Danish Field Systems
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The Layout and Internal Development of Celtic Fields: Structural and Relative Chronological Analyses of Three Danish Field Systems
      Available formats
Hide All
Aarts, E.H.L., Korst, J.H.M. & van Laarhoven, P.J.M. 1988. A Quantitative Analysis of the Simulated Annealing Algorithm: A Case Study for the Traveling Salesman Problem. Journal of Statistical Physics, 50: 187206.
Becker, C.J. 1972. Früheisenzeitliche Dörfer bei Grøntoft, Westjütland. 3. Vorbericht: Die Ausgrabungen 1967–68. Acta Archaeologica, 42 (1971): 79112.
Bjørk, E.A. 1957. Færøsk bygderet. 1ste del: Husdyrbruget m.v. Fotografisk genoptryk af stencileret udgave. Torshavn: Matrikulstovan.
Bradley, R. 1978. Prehistoric Field Systems in Britain and North-West Europe: A Review of Some Recent Work. World Archaeology, 9: 265–80.
Brongers, J.A. 1976. Air Photography and Celtic Field Research in the Netherlands. Amersfoort: Rijksdienst voor het Oudheidkundig Bodemonderzoek.
Brück, J. 2000. Settlement, Landscape and Social Identity: The Early-Middle Bronze Age Transition in Wessex, Sussex and the Thames Valley. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 19: 273300.
Brück, J., Johnston, R. & Wickstead, H. 2003: Excavations of Bronze Age Field Systems on Shovel Down, Dartmoor, 2003. Past, 45: 1012.
Carlsson, D. 1979: Kulturlandskapets utveckling på Gotland. En studie av jordbruks- och bebyggelseförändringar under järnåldern. Visby: Press Förlag.
Chadwick, A.M. 2008. Introduction. In: Chadwick, A.M., ed. Recent Approaches to the Archaeology of Land Allotment (BAR International Series S1875). Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 123.
Chadwick, A.M. 2013. Some Fishy Things About Scales: Macro and Micro Levels of Analysis in the Study of Later Prehistoric and Romano-British Field Systems. Landscapes, 14: 1332.
Donat, P. 1992. Tacitus, Germania Kap 26.2 und das Problem der Celtic fields. Zeitschrift für Agrargeschichte und Agrarsoziologie, 40: 114.
Drew, K. 1973. The Lombard Laws. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Eir, B. 1982. Måleenheder i Oldtidsagre. Aarbøger for Nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie, 1980: 100–13.
Fallgren, J. 2006. Kontinuitet och förändring: Bebyggelse och samhälle på Öland 200–1300 e.Kr. Uppsala: Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University.
Fleming, A. 1987. Coaxial Field Systems: Some Questions of Time and Space. Antiquity, 61: 188202.
Fokkens, H. 1998. Drowned Landscape: The Occupation of the Western Part of the Frisian-Drentian Plateau, 4400 bc–ad 500. Assen: Van Gorcum.
Fowler, P.J. 1967. The Archaeology of Fyfield and Overton Downs, Wiltshire: Third Interim Report. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 62: 1633.
Fowler, P.J. 1971. Early Prehistoric Agriculture in Western Europe: Some Archaeological Evidence. In: Simpson, D.D.A., ed. Economy and Settlement in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain and Europe. Leicester: Leicester University Press, pp. 153–82.
Frandsen, K. 1988. The Field Systems of Southern Scandinavia in the 17th Century: A Comparative Analysis. Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 70: 117–21.
Gerritsen, F.A. 2003. Local Identities: Landscape and Community in the Late Prehistoric Meuse-Demer-Scheldt Region. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Hagen, A. 1953. Studier i jernalderens gårdssamfunn, (Universitetets oldsaksamling skrifter 6). Oslo: Universitetets oldsaksamling.
Hajek, B 1988. Cooling Schedules for Optimal Annealing. Mathematics of Operation Research, 13: 311–29.
Hannerberg, D. 1955. Die älteren skandinavischen Ackermasse: Ein Versuch zu einer zusammenfassenden Theorie. Lund: Royal University of Lund, Department of Geography & Gleerup.
Hansen, S.S. 1979. Nogle aspekter omkring ejendomsformer og social arbejdsdeling i Danmarks yngre bronzealder og ældre jernalder. Et forsøg på en historisk placering af de såkaldte “Celtic Fields”. Kontaktstencil, 16: 6379.
Harris, E.C. 1975. The Stratigraphic Sequence: A Question of Time. World Archaeology, 7: 109–21.
Hatt, G. 1938. Jernalderens bopladser i Himmerland. Aarbøger for Nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie, 1938: 119266.
Hatt, G. 1939. The Ownership of Cultivated Land. Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard.
Hatt, G. 1949. Oldtidsagre. Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard.
Herzog, I. 1993: Computer-aided Harris Matrix Generation. In: Harris, E.C., Brown, M.R. & Brown, G.J., eds. Practices of Archaeological Stratigraphy. London: Academic Press, pp. 201–17.
Holst, M.K. 2004. Complicated Relations and Blind Dating: Formal Analysis of Relative Chronological Structures. In: Buck, C.E. & Millard, A.R., eds. Tools for Constructing Chronologies: Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries. London: Springer, pp. 129–47.
Holst, M.K. 2010. Inconstancy and Stability: Large and Small Farmsteads in the Village of Nørre Snede (Central Jutland) in the First Millennium ad. Siedlungs- und Küstenforschung im südlichen Nordseegebiet (Settlement and Coastal Research in the Southern North Sea Region), 33: 155–79.
Holst, K.K. & Holst, M.K. 2004, 29 March, last update. Tempo [online] [accessed 15 May 2009]. Available at: <>
Johnston, R. 2005. Pattern Without a Plan: Rethinking the Bronze Age Coaxial Field Systems on Dartmoor, South-West England. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 24: 121.
Kirkpatrick, S., Gelatt, C.D. & Vechhi, M.P. 1983. Optimization by Simulated Annealing. Science 220 (4598): 671–80.
Klamm, M. 1993. Aufbau und Entstehung Eisenzeitlicher Ackerfluren (“Celtic Fields”). I. Stand der Forschung. Göttingen: Brunk Meyer.
Knuth, D. 1997. The Art of Computer Programming. Volume 1: Fundamental Algorithms. Reading: Addison Wesley.
Lang, V. 1994. Celtic and Baltic Fields in North Estonia: Fossil Field Systems of the Late Bronze Age and Pre-Roman Iron Age at Saha-Loo and Proosa. Acta Archaeologica, 65: 203–19.
Lang, V. 2007. Estonian Archaeology 3: The Bronze and Early Iron Ages in Estonia. Tartu: Tartu University Press.
Lindquist, S.-O. 1974. The Development of the Agrarian Landscape on Gotland during the Early Iron Age. Norwegian Archaeological Review, 7: 632.
Løvschal, M. 2015. Lines of Landscape Organization: Skovbjerg Moraine (Denmark) in the First Millenium bc. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 34: 259–78.
Müller-Wille, M. 1965. Eisenzeitliche Fluren in den festländischen Nordseegebieten. Münster: im Selbstverlag der Geographischen Kommission.
Müller-Wille, M. 1979. Flursysteme der Bronze- und Eisenzeit in den Nordseegebieten. Zum Stand der Forschung über “Celtic Fields”. In: Beck, H., Denecke, D. & Jankuhn, H. eds. Untersuchungen zur eisenzeitlichen und frühmittelalterlichen Flur in Mitteleuropa und ihrer Nutzung. Bericht über die Kolloquien der Kommission für die Altertumskunde Mittel- und Nordeuropas in den Jahren 1975 und 1976. Teil I (Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen. Philologisch-historische Klasse. Dritte Folge, Nr. 115). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 196239.
Murray, A.C. 1983. Germanic Kinship Structures: Studies in Law and Society in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.
Nielsen, N.H. & Dalsgaard, K. 2017. Dynamics of Celtic Fields: A Geoarchaeological Investigation of Øster Lem Hede, Western Jutland, Denmark. Geoarchaeology - An International Journal, 32, 414–34. doi 10.1002/gea.21615
Nielsen, V. 1993. Jernalderens pløjning. Store Vildmose. Undersøgelser i Grishøjgårds Krat. Pløjeteknik. Gravhøje i Store Vildmose. Pløjespor under høje. Hjørring: Vendsyssel historiske Museum.
Nielsen, V. 2000. Oldtidsagre i Danmark. Bornholm. Højbjerg: Jysk Arkæologisk Selskab.
Nielsen, V. & Clemmensen, N. 2010. Oldtidsagre i Danmark: Sjælland, Møn og Lolland-Falster. Højbjerg: Jysk Arkæologisk Selskab.
Pihl, A. 2013. Oldtidsagre omkring Østersøen i 1. årtusinde (unpublished MA dissertation, Copenhagen University).
Pryor, F. 1998. Farmers in Prehistoric Britain. Stroud: Tempus.
Riles, A. 1998. Division within the Boundaries. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 4: 409–24.
Rindel, P.O. 1999. Development of the Village Community 500 bc–100 ad in West Jutland, Denmark. In: Fabech, C. & Ringtved, J., eds. Settlement and Landscape: Proceedings of a Conference in Århus, Denmark. May 4–7 1998. Højbjerg: Jutland Archaeological Society, pp. 7999.
Roymans, N. & Gerritsen, F. 2002. Landscape, Ecology and Mentalités: A Long-term Perspective on Developments in the Meuse-Demer-Scheldt Region. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 68: 257–87.
Sharon, I. 1995. Partial Order Scalogramanalysis of Relations: A Mathematical Approach to the Analysis of Stratigraphy. Journal of Archaeological Science, 22: 751–67.
Sørensen, P.H. 1973. Jysk oldtidsagerbrug - lokaliseret efter luftfotografier. Kulturgeografi, 24: 337–54.
Sørensen, P.H. 1982. The Use of Air Photographs in Celtic Field Studies. Journal of Danish Archaeology, 1: 7786.
Sporrong, U. 1995. Ägandets reproduktion – om arvsregler och landskapsutveckling i 1700-talets Dalarna. In: Widgren, M., ed. Äganderätten i lantbrukets historia. Stockholm: Nordiska Museet, pp. 99108.
Steensberg, A. 1951. Modern Research of Agrarian History in Denmark. LAOS, 1:187201.
Veibæk, O. 1974. Ploven og dens betydning: med særligt henblik på landsbyorganisation. Skanderborg: s.n.
Webley, L. 2008. Iron Age Households: Structure and Practice in Western Denmark, 500 bc–ad 200. Højbjerg: Jutland Archaeological Society.
Wickstead, H. 2008. Theorising Tenure: Land Division and Identity in Later Prehistoric Dartmoor (British Archaeological Reports British Series 465). Oxford: Archaeopress.
Widgren, M. 1983. Settlement and Farming Systems in the Early Iron Age (Stockholm Studies in Human Geography 3). Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis.
Widgren, M. 1990. Strip Fields in an Iron-Age Context: A Case Study from Västergötland, Sweden. Landscape History, 12: 524.
Widgren, M. 1995. Individuellt eller kollektivt ägande i bondesamhällen? In: Widgren, M., ed. Äganderätten i lantbrukets historia (Skrifter om skogs- og landbrukshistoria 8). Stockholm: Nordiska Museet, pp. 516.
Widgren, M. 2006. Reading Property in the Landscape. Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift - (Norwegian Journal of Geography), 60: 5764.
Yates, D.T. 2007. Land, Power and Prestige: Bronze Age Field Systems in Southern England. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

European Journal of Archaeology
  • ISSN: 1461-9571
  • EISSN: 1741-2722
  • URL: /core/journals/european-journal-of-archaeology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Nielsen supplementary material
Nielsen supplementary material 1

 Unknown (114 KB)
114 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed