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[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #22: Bat

July 28, 2021

In 2021, I am blogging an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here.  Today’s entry covers a number of species of flying mammals in the Order Chiroptera.

A photo of a bat resting
By Parc naturel régional des Vosges du Nord – Photo taken on [http://www.parc-vosges-nord.fr/html/telechargement/photos.htm http://www.parc-vosges-nord.fr/html/telechargement/photos.htm%5D, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=246318

Bat 

Mammals of the order Chiroptera, which are unique among mammals for their ability to fly. Bats mostly hunt at dusk or dawn, preying on flying insects, although Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentoni (Kuhl, 1817)), which usually lives near water, may be seen during daylight. Bones of the whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus (Kuhl, 1817)), Natterer’s bat (Myotis nattereri (Kuhl, 1817)) and common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus (Schreber, 1774)) were found within the Neolithic long barrow Hazleton North in Gloucestershire, while indeterminate bat bones were found in a 1st century AD context at Gorhambury, St. Albans. Bones of common long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus (Linnaeus, 1758)), whiskered bat, and Bechstein’s bat (Myotis bechsteini (Kuhl, 1817)) were recovered at the Pleistocene site of Boxgrove.

[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #21: Bass

July 21, 2021

In 2021, I am blogging an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here.  Today’s entry is a sea fish which ventures into estuaries in spring and summer.

An image of a small silver fish
Dicentrarchus labrax. Photo by Citron CC BY-SA 3.0

Bass

Dicentrarchus labrax (Linnaeus, 1758)

Also known as sea dace, sea bass or European seabass

A silvery sea fish which also ventures into estuaries and sometimes freshwater, it is a predator of smaller fish, shrimps and crabs. They are slow growing, and mature around 30-40cms but can grow up to 100cms. In spring, young bass migrate inshore in schools, followed by older fish. The young (1-2 year old) fish are also found in estuaries in autumn, before migrating offshore for winter. It is a pelagic (surface-living) species, and may be caught by angling with a hook. The young fish feed on invertebrates such as crabs, polychaete worms and prawns, the adults also eat other fish. It is characterised by ctenoid scale forms, although the scales between the eyes are cycloid. Bass bones were among the finds at Norwich and Portchester Castles, and their vertebrae were present at the Mesolithic Site A at Goldcliff on the Welsh shore of the Severn Estuary.

European seabass on the Archaeological Fish Resource

[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #20: Basil-thyme

July 19, 2021

Basil-thyme

Clinopodium acinos (L.) Kuntze

Also known as spring savory

A small plant with lots of little pink flowers
Basil-thyme. Image by Rasbak at Dutch Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

An aromatic member of the mint family, found on bare ground on chalk and limestone in southern and eastern England. It is a low, spreading plant with thyme-like leaves and purple flowers. The 16th century herbalist John Gerard especially commended the seed’s ability to cure ailments of the heart and to counter melancholy. In A Modern Herbal (1931), Mrs Grieve recommended applying one drop of the the oil on cotton wool to a decaying tooth to alleviate the pain, or applying it to the skin in cases of neuralgia or sciatica.

Clinopodium acinos in the Digital Seed Atlas

[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #19: Bartsia, Red

July 9, 2021

In 2021, I am blogging an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here. I’ve had to take a lengthy pause due to various other commitments, but I am slowly resuming this. Today’s entry is an attractive wildflower, which is partially parasitic on other plants.

An image of a purple -pink flower
Red bartsia. Image by Photo by sannse, Great Holland Pits, Essex, 6 June 2004. CC BY-SA 3.0

Bartsia, Red

Odontites vernus Dumort.

A native wildflower of arable fields, roadsides and grassy places. It has square stems with many branches, bearing reddish white flowers. In northern Britain, the predominant form has large leaf-like bracts beneath the flowers borne on straight upright branches. In southern Britain, the bracts are smaller than the flower, and the branches are almost at a right angle to the stem, and have upturned ends. It is a member of the broomrape family, and is partially parasitic on the roots of other plants.

The name Odontites derives from a belief that the plant could cure toothache, which was described by Pliny the Elder.

[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #18: Barnacle

July 3, 2021
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In 2021, I am blogging an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here. I’ve had to take a lengthy pause due to various other commitments, but I am slowly resuming this. Today’s entry is a class of marine fauna.

Barnacle

(Infraclass Cirripedia)

An image of a barnacle plate
Plate of Coronula diadema from Bornais, South Uist. Photo by Matt Law (CC-BY 4.0)

Marine crustaceans within the infraclass Cirripedia. In many species, planktonic larvae settle on a substrate to which they become firmly attached and live their adult lives. Smaller species, familiar to beachgoers, may be imported to archaeological sites on shellfish or seaweed, for example at 16-22 Coppergate and at Skeldergate, both in York, or at the Queen Street and Crown Court sites in Newcastle. Larger species are known which live on the skin of whales, finds of which may be indirect evidence of whale carcass processing at archaeological sites, such as in post-occupation deposits at Bornais on South Uist. The goose barnacle (Pollicipes pollicipes), which attaches itself to the substrate by means of a stalk, is eaten as a delicacy in modern Spain and Portugal, and was consumed in the Mesolithic there, being present in middens such as at El Mazo in Asturias. It has not been recorded from shell middens in these islands, however, despite being present in the region’s seas. A medieval, or perhaps earlier, myth saw goose barnacles as a stage in the spontaneous generation of barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) from trees, the basis for this apparently being the presence of the barnacles (which bear a passing resemblance to a goose neck and beak) on driftwood, and the fact that barnacle geese are migratory, so few in Western Europe had seen where they nest. The myth features in Gerald of Wales’s Topographia Hibernae (1187 or 1188).

Call for Contributions: Archaeo+Malacology Newsletter Issue 36

April 25, 2021

The Archaeo+Malacology Newsletter welcomes contributions ranging from short research articles, reviews, images, descriptions of datasets and open science initiatives, and notifications of recent publications and theses. The deadline for Issue 36 is July 31st, 2021. Please feel free to reach out if you would like to discuss a potential submission.

[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #17: Barley

March 25, 2021
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In 2021, I am blogging an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here. Today’s is one of the most important cereal crops in modern Britain, and of these islands in the past since it’s arrival almost 6,000 years ago.

An image of Barley from a 19th century botanical text
Barley, from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany. Public domain, shared by CSvBibra

Barley

Hordeum vulgare L.

A cultivated plant, barley is the second most cultivated cereal crop in Britain, and nowadays is largely grown to feed livestock. Barley is able to thrive on less fertile soils than wheat, and can tolerate lower rainfall and higher salinity. It is one of the four most widely grown crops in the world (with wheat, rice and maize), and is the most widely grown, being cultivated from the Equator to c.70°N in Scandinavia, and was grown by Norse colonists in Greenland between the 10th and 14th centuries. The most widely grown form in Britain is one whose grains are arranged in two rows, one on each side of the stem, and which is thus known as two-rowed barley. The next most frequently grown has six rows of grains around the stem. Probably the two and six-row forms come from a single wild progenitor, the two-row wild barley Hordeum vulgare subsp. spontaneum Koch, found in south western Asia. This has tightly fitting hulls on the grains. An early development was the loss of these hulls, producing two-row naked barley, Hordeum vulgare subsp. distichum convar. nudum. This has the advantage of being easier to thresh. Barley was one of the earliest domesticated crops in south west Asia, and one of the first crops to spread west into Europe. Hulled barley (having grain to which the palea is fused) and naked barley are both present in Britain from the Neolithic, and both are free-threshing, meaning that the grain is easy to separate from the ear. 

Barley has a short growing season, and can be sown in autumn as well as spring. The outer layers covering barley kernels are not palatable. The removal of these through mechanical means is known as pearling. Pearled and ground barley forms semolina and cous cous. Hulled barley is often soaked or parched to aid removing the chaff from the grain, which can then be achieved by beating or rubbing, sometimes called hummeling. Barley does not form gluten, so does not leaven to produce a good loaf of bread, but it does make good griddle cakes. It is the preferred cereal for malting for addition to beer, especially the two-row barleys, which have more uniform grains. 

In upland Scotland, there was a shift from naked barley to hulled barley and other cereals during the Iron Age, while in some parts of southern England in the Iron Age, for example the Danebury environs in Hampshire, there seems to have been a change from spelt and barley grown together in autumn as a maslin crop, to barley and spelt sown separately as monocrops, barley in spring and spelt in autumn. As a monocrop, barley is traditionally sown in spring. Drage is the early medieval term in southern England for a combination of barley and oats grown and harvested together, while beremancorn is a mixture of barley and wheat sown together in autumn. 

The protein matter within barley grains dissolves in boiling water, giving the drink barley water. According to Mrs Grieve’s A Modern Herbal (1931), this has been used to dilute cow’s milk for young infants, as it prevents the formation of hard masses of curds in the stomach. Barley malt (derived from toasting and grinding sprouted barley) has often been the basis for brewing beers, such as the ealu (ale) of medieval England. Barley broth was eaten in the Scottish Highlands during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Barley can be used in the drenching stage of leather tanning as an acidic solution to aid in the initial cleaning of the hide before tanning proper. 

[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #16: Barbel

March 18, 2021

In 2021, I am blogging an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here. Today’s is our first fish.

A picture of a barbel
Barbel (Barbus barbus). Image by Neil Philips from ukwildlife.org.uk CC-BY 2.0

Barbel

Barbus barbus (Linnaeus, 1758)

A freshwater fish in the carp family, the largest and most diverse of all vertebrate families. Adult barbels are usually 40-60 cms long, but can grow up to 100cms. The species is named for the four long feelers around its mouth. It is found in flowing water, especially where the bottom sediment is sandy or stony. It is an indigenous species that most likely colonised post-glacial Britain via the former land bridge to Europe. They were mainly distributed in eastern England, but there have been introductions to western England in more recent times. They are more active in twilight than during the  day, and eat molluscs, crustaceans, worms and insect larvae. It is one of the dominant species of ninth-century Coppergate in York, and its decline in representation there may be an indicator of a decline in water quality. 

Barbel roe are poisonous, and can cause stomach upset. It is possible that adult barbel flesh is also toxic during the spawning season.

Barbel on the Archaeological Fish Resource

[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #15: Balm, Lemon

March 12, 2021

In 2021, I am blogging an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here. Today’s is not a native species, but is a familiar plant commonly seen close to gardens, which is a personal favourite

A clump of lemon balm
Lemon Balm. Image by By Andrea_44 from Leamington, Ontario , Canada – Lemon Balm, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54215765

Balm, Lemon

Melissa officinalis L.

Also known as balm, balm mint, and bee-balm

A cultivated herb prized for its sweet lemon-scented leaves, which has naturalised on roadsides in southern England in particular. It is a member of the mint family, and native to southern Europe. Beekeepers sometimes plant lemon balm close to hives as its abundance of small white flowers from June to August is a rich source of nectar. 

Its dried leaves can be used as a substitute for lemon juice to flavour jams and jellies, and tea made by steeping the leaves in boiling water is used in herbal medicine for its calming effect. It was formerly used in the preparation of Eau des carmes, a predecessor of Eau de Cologne, and is used to flavour the liqueurs Benedictine and Chartreuse.

Lemon balm nutlets are known from a Romano- British context at Glebe Farm near Barton-upon-Humber, and from a Medieval context at Park Street, Birmingham.

Melissa officinalis on the Digital Plant Atlas

Now Published: Archaeomalacology Newsletter Issue 35

March 7, 2021

The new issue of the Archaeo+Malacology Newsletter is now available. It includes advice about curating a reference collection from Fleur Dijsktra et al., a write up of the non-marine molluscs from the Buckner Ranch site in Texas by Kenneth Brown, a review of a new book about an important mesolithic marine shell assemblage in northern Spain, and news about our next meeting https://archaeomalacology.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/amwg-newsletter-issue-35-february-2021.pdf