Early farming in Scotland was less stinky than elsewhere, according to new research, because they did not need to use manure to fertilize their fields, unlike their counterparts in the British Isles and on mainland Europe.
The discovery was made as a consequence of an examination of artifacts taken from the Aberdeenshire excavation site of Balbridie, which was uncovered between 1977 and 1981. Around 3800 BC, some of Scotland’s earliest farmers lived at this well-preserved Neolithic site.
A considerable amount of ancient grain was also retrieved from Balbridie, which is now being investigated using stable isotope analysis by a team of researchers. The ratios of carbon and nitrogen isotopes in a plant’s developing environment can be analyzed by researchers.
According to the team’s study, farmers in the Stone Age did not apply manure to their farms to fertilize them. The land was still highly fruitful, though.
“The stable isotope analysis revealed very low nitrogen levels showing that the crops were not grown on manured soils,” said lead author Dr. Rosie Bishop, from the University of Stavanger, Norway “the large size and number of the grains recovered suggest that during this first phase of farming, the soils were productive without the need for manuring.”
Conversely, prior studies on early farms in continental Europe and England have virtually invariably discovered proof that crops were cultivated in manured fields. This demonstrates that some regions of Scotland were suitable for cultivating throughout the Neolithic period‘s early stages of agriculture.
According to the news of Phys, the scientists also examined the current site of Dubton Farm in Angus and discovered that manure was used there. In Scotland, manuring gradually became the standard. In addition, Dr. Bishop and the colleagues discovered that dung was being used in later Neolithic farms on Orkney, at the sites of Skara Brae and the Braes of Ha’Breck from approximately 3300 to 2400 BC. In addition, the team discovered that Orkney’s farmers were employing permanent plots in a larger area than they had anticipated.
Dr. Bishop said “The evidence showed that they grew their crops in permanent fields”. Other academics have proposed that Neolithic farmers in Britain worked small temporary fields and frequently moved their plots to different pieces of land or that they were a semi-nomadic community that did not always grow crops. These findings, however, demonstrate that this was not the case in Scotland.
Dr. Bishop “at one of the Orkney sites we were also able to show that these early farmers grew their crops over a range of different soils, suggesting they grew their crops quite extensively around the landscape or that different farms were storing their crops in a communal store at the site” said.
Such wide utilization of the landscape and potential resource pooling would have also helped protect against crop failure, which is a constant worry in Orkney’s severe environment. Early farmers were able to create a variety of sustainable methods for different situations.
Dr. Bishop noted the variety of farming patterns they discovered throughout Scotland and remarked, “The variability of the cropping strategies identified highlights the adaptability of early farming practices.” This raises the possibility that more research in other places will uncover a similar diversity. Many early farmers may have avoided using manure.
The team believes such research could also help us in the present. “The potential of stable isotope analysis of cereals for recognizing past sustainable (and unsustainable) land use elsewhere across the globe may provide lessons for managing future human impacts on the environment,” said Dr. Bishop.