Farming the fields

Archaeologists can tell that Doncaster’s ancient fields were farmed for arable crops and to pasture livestock.

Groups of fields were separated by small areas of managed woodland or coppice. People and livestock travelled between the fields along droveways, which linked scattered farmsteads. 

Very deep and wide boundary ditches surrounded the fields, and the soil excavated from them was piled into high earthen banks running alongside. The boundaries were much larger than was needed simply to stop livestock wandering or to provide drainage. Archaeologists have found that many of the Iron Age and Romano-British field ditches were regularly cleaned out after becoming partly filled. Ditches slowly silt up if left alone and eventually become filled in with soil as a result of erosion from the sides and adjacent earthen bank. The people who built them must have invested a lot of time and resources to first dig and then keep them cleaned. This suggests that the ditches were important, defining boundaries between neighbours and demonstrating a family’s right to farm the land.

Evidence throughout Britain suggests that agriculture intensified under the Romans. Productivity was increased by taking more land into production and introducing more efficient types of tools, land drainage, crop rotation and new breeds. Demand increased as the Roman authorities were keen to exploit the economic potential of their new province and because there was a significant population of administrators and soldiers, who didn’t farm. One Roman scholar writing in the 3rd century AD described Britain as a land rich in harvests with abundant pasture that produced a lucrative source of tribute. A century later, another writer described how corn had been shipped from Britain to the Rhine until attacks from outside the Empire stopped this.

For further information, please contact us:

  • tel: 0114 273 6354
  • address: South Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Howden House, 1 Union Street, Sheffield, S1 2SH
Last updated: 31 October 2018 12:23:50