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Farming in a rural settlement in central Italy: cultural and environmental implications of crop production through the transition from Lombard to Frankish influence (8th–11th centuries A.D.)

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Plant macrofossil (carpological) and morpho-metric analyses were carried out on plant remains from the medieval castle of Miranduolo, Siena, a rural settlement in central Italy with a long sequence of occupation between the 8th and the 11th centuries A.D. The presence of Triticum aestivum/durum and Vicia faba var. minor from the first phase of the Lombard farming village suggests continuity with the agricultural tradition of the preceding Roman world, and the use of good cultivation techniques that allowed quality yields to be obtained from rather poor soils. At the same time, the significant presence of the primitive cereal T. monococcum, compared with the ar-chaeobotanical literature of north-central Italy, allows to us consider it as a ''cultural'' element of Lombard farming. In the next cultural phases, with the Carolingian manor and then with the feudal castle, the stable presence of T. aes-tivum/durum and the reduction of T. monococcum in favour of more productive cereals such as Secale cereale and Hordeum vulgare indicate a further improvement in pro-ductivity. This is also confirmed by the appearance of fruits and nuts such as Castanea sativa, Vitis vinifera and Prunus persica. The increase in caryopsis sizes of T. monococcum and T. aestivum/durum in the transition from the village to the manorial phase is a consequence of the improvements in farming. The decrease in caryopsis size of T. mono-coccum from the manor phase to that of the castle testifies the decreasing importance of this cereal. The good date resolution of this research allows us to detect the crops, the storage and the processing practices, as well as the changing role of crop plants in the rural economy. This highlights the geographical, historical-cultural and political factors of the medieval transition from the Lombard to the Carolingian and then to the feudal period in central Italy.
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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Farming in a rural settlement in central Italy: cultural
and environmental implications of crop production
through the transition from Lombard to Frankish influence
(8th–11th centuries A.D.)
Mauro Buonincontri Daniela Moser
Emilia Allevato Boris Basile Gaetano Di Pasquale
Received: 14 May 2013 / Accepted: 19 December 2013
ÓSpringer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014
Abstract Plant macrofossil (carpological) and morpho-
metric analyses were carried out on plant remains from the
medieval castle of Miranduolo, Siena, a rural settlement in
central Italy with a long sequence of occupation between
the 8th and the 11th centuries A.D. The presence of Triticum
aestivum/durum and Vicia faba var. minor from the first
phase of the Lombard farming village suggests continuity
with the agricultural tradition of the preceding Roman
world, and the use of good cultivation techniques that
allowed quality yields to be obtained from rather poor
soils. At the same time, the significant presence of the
primitive cereal T. monococcum, compared with the ar-
chaeobotanical literature of north-central Italy, allows to us
consider it as a ‘‘cultural’’ element of Lombard farming. In
the next cultural phases, with the Carolingian manor and
then with the feudal castle, the stable presence of T. aes-
tivum/durum and the reduction of T. monococcum in favour
of more productive cereals such as Secale cereale and
Hordeum vulgare indicate a further improvement in pro-
ductivity. This is also confirmed by the appearance of fruits
and nuts such as Castanea sativa,Vitis vinifera and Prunus
persica. The increase in caryopsis sizes of T. monococcum
and T. aestivum/durum in the transition from the village to
the manorial phase is a consequence of the improvements
in farming. The decrease in caryopsis size of T. mono-
coccum from the manor phase to that of the castle testifies
the decreasing importance of this cereal. The good date
resolution of this research allows us to detect the crops, the
storage and the processing practices, as well as the
changing role of crop plants in the rural economy. This
highlights the geographical, historical-cultural and political
factors of the medieval transition from the Lombard to the
Carolingian and then to the feudal period in central Italy.
Keywords Farming history Middle Ages Seeds/fruits
Morphometric analysis Triticum aestivum/durum
Triticum monococcum
Introduction
Since 2001 the castle of Miranduolo, 40 km from Siena,
southern Tuscany, Italy, has been the focus of archaeo-
logical investigations by the University of Siena (Fig. 1a;
Valenti 2006,2009,2011). This excavation belongs to a
wider research programme which has been carried out for
decades on the settlement history of west-central Italy
between the end of the late Roman period and the middle
centuries of the medieval period. In the province of Siena,
archaeological investigations have shown that after a first
phase of spontaneous occupation of the hilltops during the
7th century A.D., a reorganization of settlements started
from the 8th century A.D., due to the presence of the
Lombard and Carolingian aristocracies (Augenti 2000;
Francovich and Hodges 2003; Valenti 2004; Bianchi
2010), which held their power by land ownership and
management.
For central Italy, historians have always considered the
medieval farming economy as backward in comparison
Communicated by F. Bittmann.
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this
article (doi:10.1007/s00334-013-0429-8) contains supplementary
material, which is available to authorized users.
M. Buonincontri (&)D. Moser E. Allevato B. Basile
G. Di Pasquale
Laboratory of Vegetation History and Wood Anatomy,
Department of Agriculture, University of Naples ‘‘Federico II’’,
Via Universita
`, 100, 80055 Portici, Italy
e-mail: mauropaolo.buonincontri@unina.it
123
Veget Hist Archaeobot
DOI 10.1007/s00334-013-0429-8
with the preceding Roman economy. Medieval farming
was characterized by subsistence agriculture, mainly aim-
ing to diversify farming to avoid the consequences of poor
harvests (Montanari 1979). Even though the medieval
agricultural system was characterized by a surprising
variety of crops, historians consider it inadequate because
of the decline of wheat cultivation and the predominance of
minor cereals and small grains (Montanari 1979,2002;
Andreolli 1981; Cortonesi 2002). In spite of the great
potential for archaeobotanical analysis, the data relevant to
the Italian peninsula are mostly published in grey literature,
which is often difficult to trace (for a review of archaeo-
botanical studies in the Middle Ages, see Grasso and Fio-
rentino 2009).
The archaeobotanical data from northern Italy show an
agricultural world in crisis both in urban and rural sites
(Castelletti and Maspero 1988; Castelletti and Motella De
Carlo 1999; Castiglioni et al. 1999; Nisbet 1999; Augenti
Fig. 1 The archaeological site of Miranduolo. aLocation map of the
site, bAerial view of the castle of Miranduolo (Source http://
archeologiamedievale.unisi.it/miranduolo); cThe landscape sur-
rounding the site: arable field along the river Merse and hills of the
Colline Metallifere; dPlan of the archaeological features of the vil-
lage phase, second half of the 8th century A.D. to first half of the 9th
century A.D.(Source modified http://archeogis.archeo.unisi.it:8080/
pmapper/map.phtml); e, Plan of the archaeological features of the
manor phase, second half of the 9th century A.D. to last quarter of the
10th century A.D.; fPlan of the archaeological features of the castle
phase, last quarter of the 10th century A.D. to first quarter of the 11th
century A.D
Veget Hist Archaeobot
123
et al. 2006). Only from the 10th c. A.D. did farming again
become rich and diverse, reaching the quality of the Roman
period, and supplying food to urban markets in Firenze/
Florence (Buonincontri et al. 2007a; Mariotti Lippi et al.
2013), Ferrara (Bandini Mazzanti et al. 2005; Bosi et al.
2009) and Parma (Bosi et al. 2011) between the Communal
Age, based on allegiances between city states, and the
Renaissance.
The geographical distribution of cultivated cereals does
not fully agree with those reported by historical sources.
Indeed, the high spatial resolution of archaeobotanical data
detects the peculiarity related to local environmental con-
ditions such as climate and soils, and to different socio-
cultural factors. Archaeobotanical research shows that
crops of the Roman period persisted in those areas sub-
jected to strong political-ecclesiastical controls, where the
climate was favourable and soils were fertile (Castelletti
1977; Costantini et al. 1983; Van der Veen 1985; Bakels
2002; Caracuta and Fiorentino 2009). The analysis of the
botanical remains from Miranduolo provides a special
opportunity to improve our knowledge of plant husbandry
during the Middle Ages in central Italy, providing infor-
mation about the crops, the storage and the processing
practices. One particular feature of interest, due to the long
time span covered, is to detect the roles and the changes of
crop plants in the economic agrarian system.
Study area
The territory of Miranduolo is located on the eastern slopes
of the hilly area of the Colline Metallifere, between 350
and 750 m a.s.l., 40 km southwest of Siena (Fig. 1a), and it
is crossed by the river Merse on the plain located to the
north. The closest meteorological station of Pentolina
(450 m a.s.l.) indicates minimum average temperatures of
the coldest month (February) of 2 °C and maximum
average temperatures of the hottest month (August) of
29 °C; rainfall is around 1,000–1,100 mm/year.
Mixed deciduous woodlands, mainly of Quercus cerris
L. (turkey oak) and Q. pubescens Willd. (downy oak),
cover the surrounding area; abandoned Castanea sativa
Miller (chestnut) stands with several ancient trees are also
present. On the tops of the hills, evergreen vegetation is
dominated by Q. ilex L. (holly oak). In the plain close to
the river Merse, natural vegetation is represented by iso-
lated trees of downy oak and Fraxinus oxycarpa Bieb.
(ash), as well as by riparian vegetation with Populus nigra
L. (poplar), Salix alba L., S. caprea L. and S. eleagnus L.
(willows).
The soils on the hillsides are rather infertile; the plains
consist of fluvial deposits (Fig. 1c) and locally of sandy
and clay soils, with some chalk, which are a limiting factor
for the yields of crops (Costantini et al. 2006; Regione
Toscana unpublished).
The presence of the castle, located on a hill at 411 m a.s.l.
(Fig. 1b), is attested by historical sources from the end of the
10th century A.D., but archaeological excavation has shown
that there had been three earlier phases of settlement (Valenti
2006). Miranduolo was firstly settled in the Lombard period in
the 7th century A.D. as a mining village of huts with a church.
In the second half of the 8th century A.D. it became a farming
village, consisting of peasants’ huts with silo pits for crop
storage (Fig. 1d). From the second half of the 9th century A.D.,
during the Carolingian period, the village developed into a
manor (Fig. 1e). In this phase, the top of the hill became the
manorial court, defended by two ditches and a fence, with
several barns and other buildings related to crop processing.
This area was controlled by a lord who directed agricultural
production. The village was located on the lower part of the
hill (Fig. 1e). The stone castle was built from the last quarter
of the 10th century; in this phase, the settlement arrangement
did not change. The defended area of the hilltop was still used
for food processing and storage (Fig. 1f). Several fires
affected the site and these caused charring and the preserva-
tion of a great quantity of botanical material in the stores.
Materials and methods
Samples were taken from 20 archaeological layers which
are referred to here as stratigraphic units (SUs), consisting
of fills of silo pits and occupation surfaces, related to ten
archaeological structures and 13 contexts (Table 1). With
the term ‘‘archaeological structure’’ we indicate the pre-
sumed function of the features, such as storehouses, huts or
silos, in each phase of the settlement. Every archaeological
structure includes a ‘‘context’’, consisting of various SUs,
showing the activities and events there. The remains from
SUs relating to floors, storage areas and the collapsed
remains of the same archaeological structures (hut C24,
storehouse C01, ditch F06 and storehouse C12) were ana-
lyzed together. In the silo pits, only sediments from the
bottom were sampled.
Sediment samples were labelled according to the SU.
Structure identification follows the same numbering system
as the excavation webgis (http://archeogis.archeo.unisi.it:
8080/pmapper/map.phtml). SUs cover three chronological
ranges: the village, the manor, and the castle phases
(Table 1). The total volume of the treated sediment was
408 l and the volume per sample ranged from 2 to 60 l
(Table 1).
The samples were processed with an ‘‘Ankara’’ type flo-
tation machine equipped with a 0.5 mm mesh in the floating
tank. Floated-out macroremains were recovered from mesh
sizes 4, 2, 1, 0.50 and 0.25 mm. After the flotation, the heavier
Veget Hist Archaeobot
123
residues were screened for other organic remains. All recov-
ered plant remains were observed; subsamples were analysed
only in five cases (50 % of each fraction from SUs 320, 1215
and 1228; 75 % from SUs 1103 and 1193). Seeds and fruits
were separated into ‘‘individuals’’ and ‘‘fragments’’ and then
counted. We use the term ‘‘individual’’ when the fragments
had diagnostic features that allowed us to count them as entire,
following the principle of the ‘‘minimum number of indi-
viduals’’ (Jones 1990; Antolı
`n and Buxo
`2011): for cereals
this was when the embryo end of the grain was preserved, for
pulses when the hilum was preserved, and for grape pips when
the stalk was preserved. Identified fragments without these
characteristics were counted and named as fragments.
The taxonomical identification was carried out by
comparing with a reference seed collection, atlases and
specialist literature (Renfrew 1973; Schoch et al. 1988;
Viggiani 1991; Hubbard 1992; Maier 1996; Sadori and
Susanna 2005). Since grain remains of naked wheat cannot
be identified to species (Maier 1996; Alonso Martinez
2005; Ruas et al. 2005; Jacomet 2008), the term Triticum
aestivum/durum is used in accordance with Jacomet
(2008).
All percentages and frequencies were calculated for
each taxon considering only the individuals and excluding
the fragments; rachis forks were included in percentage
calculations for cereals; similarly grape pedicels were
considered in the calculations for fruits. When only frag-
ments were available for specific taxa, these were consid-
ered as individuals.
The archaeobotanical record is an obvious source of data
for examining changes in plant morphology associated with
the cultivation process (Lepofsky et al. 1998). For each
studied settlement phase, the length, the width, and the
thickness of50 caryopses belonging to T. aestivum/durum and
T. monococcum were measured following Van Zeist (1970)
and Hubbard (1992). Caryopses from central Florence dated
to the 13th–14th centuries were also measured, so as to pro-
vide an external comparison (Buonincontri et al. 2007a;
Buonincontri unpublished data). The comparison with
remains from a different chrono-cultural context provided the
opportunity to obtain important information about the capa-
bilities and the changes in medieval crop growing. For these
measurements we used only intact caryopses without any
deformation or protrusions deriving from charring. The
Table 1 List of samples from Miranduolo
Chronology Archaeological structure SU Sample vol. (l) Feature
Village phase 2nd half 8th–1st half 9th c. A.D. Hut C24 95 2 Layer from the floor
97 2 Layer from the floor
Hut C26 320* 20 Fill of the silo pit
Manor phase 2nd half 9th–last quarter 10th c. A.D. Hut C28 125 4 Fill of the silo pit
Warehouse C01 150 60 Layer from the storing surface
162 24 Layer from the storing surface
238 12 Layer from the storing surface
239 12 Layer from the storing surface
400 24 Layer from the storing surface
Ditch F06 211 24 Collapse of the warehouse C01
212 12 Collapse of the warehouse C01
Warehouse C12 1215* 12 Layer from the surface of storing
Storage area SF11 1228 5 Fill of the silo pit A
1344* 40 Fill of the silo pit B
1361* 9 Fill of the silo pit C
1364 29 Fill of the silo pit D
Castle phase Last quarter 10th–1st quarter 11th c. A.D. Warehouse EDM04 558 24 Layer from the storing surface
Warehouse C12 1103 24 Layer from the storing surface
1193* 60 Layer from the storing surface
Crop processing area
SF08
1153 9 Layer from the floor
Sequence of the stratigraphic units (SU) sampled, grouped by archaeological context of provenance and chronological phase of settlement. The
volume of sediment sampled is indicated for each sample. The asterisks indicate the SU of provenance of caryopses submitted for biometric
analysis: with regard to the village phase the caryopses come from the silo pit of hut C26; with regard to the manor phase they come from the silo
pits B and C of the storage area SF11 and from the surface of storehouse C12; with regard to the castle phase, they come from the surface of the
warehouse C12
Veget Hist Archaeobot
123
length, the width and the thickness data were used to estimate
the volume of each caryopsis, assuming their shape as an
ellipsoid. The significance of differences between settlement
phases was assessed by one-way analysis of variance
(ANOVA) using the Duncan test (PB0.05) as a post hoc test
for separation of means. One-way ANOVA is a statistical tool
that examines the significance of difference in the means of a
quantitative parameter among two or more groups defined by
a categorical variable (treatment). In our study the quantita-
tive parameters were the caryopsis length, width, thickness
and volume, and the categorical variable was the ‘‘settlement
phase’’ that divided our individuals into four groups (village,
manor, castle and Florence). The term ‘‘one-way’’ refers to the
fact that only one categorical variable was included in the
analysis. Since ANOVA does not provide information about
the significance of the difference between specific couples of
means, we used the Duncan’s multiple range to test the sig-
nificance of the difference between any pair of means. All the
statistical analyses were performed using the SPSS statistical
software package (IBM SPSS Statistics, IBM Corporation,
Somers, NY, USA).
Results
The results are given as absolute counts and grouped by
archaeological structures and related contexts in ESM 1;
silo pits were kept separate to show information about
storage techniques.
A total of 104,878 charred remains were recovered; a
total of 39 taxa were identified and these included 25
cultivated or cultivable taxa, 13 weed taxa and one taxon of
woody wild plants (ESM 1). Crop plants were the most
common remains found in all the studied phases. In the
8th–9th centuries A.D. village, crops represented 94.7 % of
the remains (Fig. 2), 99.5 % in the 9th–10th centuries A.D.
manor (Fig. 3) and 95.8 % in the 10th–11th centuries A.D.
castle (Fig. 4).
Crop plants
The village phase: from the 2nd half of the 8th century A.D.
to the 1st half of the 9th century A.D.
Eleven taxa, all crop plants, including seven cereal taxa
were identified (ESM 1; Fig. 2). The data from the floor
represent what was used during the period of occupation of
the hut: cereals were predominant, but only three taxa were
present. T. monococcum was the most represented cereal
(46.8 %) followed by T. aestivum/durum (35.1 %),
whereas hulled Hordeum vulgare (4.3 %) and Avena sp.
(3.2 %) were less abundant. In the silo, where all seven
taxa were found, T. aestivum/durum was most common
(51.2 %), followed by T. monococcum (20.2 %), Avena sp.
(13.1 %), Panicum miliaceum (8.3 %) and hulled H.
vulgare (3.6 %); Secale cereale and T. dicoccum were less
than 1 %.
Fig. 2 Crop plants from the
village phase (second half of the
8th century A.D. to first half of
the 9th century A.D.): graphs by
phase and archaeological
context. The pie graphs show
the percentages of each
taxonomic group out of the total
individuals recovered; the bar
graphs show the percentages of
the individuals of the taxa from
the total sum of cereals and
legumes; for raw data see ESM
1(Plan:http://archeogis.archeo.
unisi.it:8080/pmapper/map.
phtml)
Veget Hist Archaeobot
123
Four taxa were identified among pulses (Fig. 2). Spo-
radic remains of seeds of Lathyrus sp. were found in both
the contexts. Vicia faba var. minor and V. ervilia were
found only in the silo pit, whereas cf. Pisum was found
only in the hut.
The manor phase: from the 2nd half of the 9th century A.D.
to the last quarter of the 10th century A.D.
Preliminary results from the storehouse C12 and the floor
in SF08 have already been reported by Buonincontri et al.
Fig. 3 Crop plants from the
manor phase (second half of the
9th century A.D. to last quarter of
the 10th century A.D.): graphs
by phase and archaeological
context; silo pits were kept
separate to collect information
about storage techniques. The
pie graphs show the percentages
of each taxonomic group out of
the total individuals recovered;
the bar graphs show the
percentages of the individual
taxa from the total sum of
cereals, legumes and fruits. In
contexts where only fragments
of a taxon were found, these
specimens have been included,
for raw data see ESM 1 (Plan
http://archeogis.archeo.unisi.it:
8080/pmapper/map.phtml)
Veget Hist Archaeobot
123
(2007b); in this study we are presenting the complete
dataset. 21 taxa among the 33 identified were crop plants
(ESM 1; Fig. 3). Cereals predominate in the seed assem-
blage with ten taxa (Fig. 3). In the silo pits located in the
storage area, T. aestivum/durum,T. monococcum, hulled H.
vulgare and P. miliaceum were the most common cereals,
followed in percentage by Avena sp., Setaria italica, and T.
dicoccum.Secale cereale and cf. Sorghum bicolor were
also present in small amounts. In the storehouse C01,
cereals represented less than 25 % of the seed assemblage,
which was mostly T. aestivum/durum (19.9 %), followed
by hulled H. vulgare (2.4 %) and S. cereale (2.0 %). In the
storehouse C12, S. cereale (54.7 %) was the predominant
species, followed by T. aestivum/durum (36.2 %). In both
storehouses, Avena sp., T. monococcum,T. dicoccum and
P. miliaceum were also found in low percentages, whereas
T. spelta was sporadic. In the silo pit of hut C28, T. aes-
tivum/durum (77.6 %) predominated, followed by S. italica
(9.3 %); T. dicoccum,T. monococcum,Avena sp., S.
cereale and hulled H. vulgare also appeared. The collapse
of the C01 on the ditch F06 yielded only T. aestivum/durum
(61.4 %).
Six pulse taxa were identified (ESM 1; Fig. 3). V.
faba var. minor and Lathyrus were the most common
remains; in details (Fig. 3), in the storage area SF11, V.
faba var. minor (99.2 %) was the only taxon in the
filling of silo pit A, whereas L. cicera and L. sativus
were the most represented in C01 (54.8 and 13.4 %,
respectively) and in the collapse on the ditch F06 (26.7
and 6.2 %, respectively). The remaining taxa, such as cf.
Pisum and V. ervilia, were present in more than half of
the sampled contexts, although they were found in very
small amounts. Four fruit taxa appeared in this phase,
including mainly Vitis vinifera.Castanea sativa,Juglans
regia,Prunus persica and Ficus carica were also present
(ESM 1; Fig. 3).
Fig. 4 Crop plants from the
castle phase (last quarter of the
10th century A.D. to first quarter
of the 11th century A.D.): graphs
by phase and archaeological
context. The pie graphs show
the percentages of each
taxonomic group out of the total
individuals recovered; the bar
graphs show the percentages of
the individuals of the taxa from
the total sum of cereals and
legumes and fruits. In contexts
where only fragments of a taxon
were found, these specimens
have been included; for raw
data, see ESM 1 (Plan http://
archeogis.archeo.unisi.it:8080/
pmapper/map.phtml)
Veget Hist Archaeobot
123
The castle phase: last quarter of the 10th century A.D.
to first quarter of the 11th century A.D.
There were 31 identified taxa, including 21 crop plants
(ESM 1; Fig. 4). Cereals dominated the seed assemblage
and eight taxa were identified among them (Fig. 4). Only
three cereal taxa were present in the storehouse EDM04:
hulled H. vulgare (23.8 %) was most abundant, followed
by T. aestivum/durum (16.9 %) and S. cereale (16.8 %).
Seven cereal taxa were identified in the storehouse C12:
T. aestivum/durum (40.5 %) was the main taxon, followed
by S. cereale (33.7 %); hulled H. vulgare and T. mono-
coccum appeared below 10 %; finally, Avena sp. and the
minute grains of P. miliaceum and Setaria italica were
present in very low percentages. Seven cereal taxa were
found in samples from the floor of the crop processing area
SF08, where T. aestivum/durum (56.0 %) and T. mono-
coccum (21.9 %) were most abundant, followed by T. di-
coccum, hulled H. vulgare and Avena sp.
Seven pulse taxa were identified (ESM 1; Fig. 4). V.
faba var. minor was the main one, especially in EDM04
(41.0 %). V. cf. sativa and Lathyrus, with L. sativus and L.
cicera, were found in more than half of the contexts; Cicer
Table 2 Length (L), width (W) and thickness (T) of caryopses of
Triticum aestivum/durum and T. monococcum (in mm) collected at
three settlement phases of Miranduolo and at Florence
Phase Triticum aestivum/durum Triticum monococcum
LWTLWT
Village 4.70b 3.30b 2.67b 5.40ab 2.68ab 2.83ab
Manor 5.12a 3.58a 2.90a 5.55a 2.83a 2.91a
Castle 5.02a 3.56a 2.86a 5.27b 2.53b 2.73b
Florence 4.98a 3.52a 2.94a 5.15b 2.22c 2.54c
Within columns, any couple of means followed by different letters are
significantly different according to the Duncan test (PB0.05). This
means, for instance, that the length of T. aestivum/durum caryopses
was significantly smaller in the village phase (mean value followed by
the letter ‘‘b’’) than in the other two phases and Florence (mean values
followed by the letter ‘‘a’’). Similarly, the length of T. monococcum
caryopses in the village phase (mean value followed by the letters
‘ab’’) was not different from those in the manor phase (mean value
followed by the letter ‘‘a’’) and, at the same time, it did not differ from
those from the castle phase and Florence (mean values followed by
the letter ‘‘b’’)
Fig. 6 Column A Comparison of the percentages of cereals, legumes
and fruits out of the total of the reference group, in the three
chronological phases between the second half of the 8th century A.D.
and the first quarter of the 11th; Column B comparison of the
frequency index of cereals, legumes and fruits out of the total of the
reference group, by archaeological contexts in the three chronological
phases between the second half of the 8th century A.D. and the first
quarter of the 11th. The percentages and the frequencies are
calculated on the basis of the individuals found, but in the contexts
where only fragments of a taxon have been found, these have been
included
Fig. 5 Changes in caryopsis volume of Triticum aestivum/durum and
T. monococcum between the 8th and the 11th century A.D.at
Mirandulo, compared with the 14th century caryopses from Florence
(grey area). Vertical bars represent standard errors of the means.
Different letters indicate means significantly different according to
the Duncan test (PB0.05). Upper case and lower case letters were
used for T. aestivum/durum and T. monococcum, respectively
Veget Hist Archaeobot
123
arietinum,V. ervilia and cf. Pisum were present only in the
assemblage from the storehouse C12.
Six fruit taxa were found (ESM 1; Fig. 4). Vitis vinifera
and Castanea sativa were the commonest, while J. regia,
cf. Malus sp., P. persica and P. avium/cerasus appeared in
low amounts.
Weeds and wild plants
Thirteen wild plant taxa were identified (ESM 1). Cary-
opses of Poaceae were found in the village phase, while in
the manor and castle phases, 11 and 13 taxa were found,
respectively. The identified taxa belonged mainly to rud-
erals and weeds of cultivated fields and among cereals. The
only taxon belonging to wild woodland vegetation was
Quercus sp.
Caryopsis size of T. aestivum/durum and T.
monococcum
Caryopsis length, width, thickness and volume of T. aes-
tivum/durum from the village phase were significantly
smaller compared to both the other settlement phases and
the caryopses from Florence dated to the 13th–14th cen-
turies A.D. (Table 2; Fig. 5). No significant difference was
found in the caryopsis size of T. monococcum between the
village and the manor phases (Table 2; Fig. 5), whereas the
length, width, thickness and volume of T. monococcum
caryopses decreased significantly passing from these pha-
ses to the castle phase and from this to the 13th–14th
centuries A.D. in Florence (Table 2; Fig. 5).
Discussion
The village
The samples from the floor levels of hut C24 indicate what
was cultivated during the period of its occupation (Fig. 2),
thus they can provide a good idea of the agricultural
economy of the village. The storage silo pit in hut C26 had
a very low concentration of plant remains (24.3 per litre)
and the finds were not homogeneous. Thus we can suppose
that the seeds were probably related to residues of the
products stored during its use, from the bottom of the pit.
However these data were very similar to those from the
floor of hut C24. All the identified crops were cultivated in
Italy during the Roman period (Castelletti et al. 2001; Forni
2002), thus we can hypothesize that there was high quality
farming in this phase; the noticeable presence of T.
monococcum (einkorn) represents an element of disconti-
nuity with Roman agriculture (Fig. 6).
According to historians, agriculture in the High Middle
Ages experienced difficulties because of the collapse of
Roman agrarian organisation together with incapacity and
technical deficiency (Montanari 1979,2002; Sadori and
Susanna 2005). However, our data suggest a good know-
ledge about both crop requirements and soil properties.
Indeed, although soils were not very fertile, because of the
presence of sand, clay and chalk, farming was mainly
based on the cultivation of cereals and also of naked wheats
(T. aestivum/durum), which represented the best choice for
achieving good crop yields and quality from the farming of
the settlement (Fig. 6). Furthermore, farmers used crops
which were more resistant to environmental adversities.
Indeed, H. vulgare (barley) and P. miliaceum (common
millet) are suitable for growing on poor soils and under
severe drought, completing their life cycle in a short time.
Einkorn adapts better than naked wheats to poor soils
because of its hardiness (Zohary and Hopf 2004).
Morphological features did not allow differentiation
between Avena fatua (wild oat) and A. sativa (cultivated
oat), but we hypothesize that these caryopses can be
attributed to the cultivated species because it was present
with high frequency and percentages (Fig. 6) especially in
the silo destined for domestic foodstuffs (Fig. 2). In this
phase, T. dicoccum (emmer) and S. cereale (rye) were
present only in the silo pit (Fig. 2) and in amounts that
were too small to infer their cultivation and deliberate
storage (Fig. 6). Indeed, it was reported that low levels of
minor cereals can contaminate the dominant cultigens
because of their similar growing habitat and harvest time
(Jones and Halstead 1995). Similarly, some Fabaceae
found in the silo pit, V. ervilia (bitter vetch) and Lathyrus
sativus/cicera (grass/red pea), and on the floor surface,
Pisum sativum (pea), could be contaminating taxa (Fig. 2).
However, at Miranduolo, grass/red pea was found on the
floor surface in the same amounts as the hulled barley
(Fig. 2), and thus it can be hypothesized that it was also
cultivated, and it could have been grown on the poorest
soils thanks to its hardiness.
Even V. faba var. minor (broad bean, horse bean) was
found in the silo pit in sufficient quantity to be considered a
cultivated plant (Fig. 2). According to Castelletti et al.
(2001), in Italy during the High Middle Ages, bitter V.
ervilia lost its importance and V. faba predominated
together with Pisum and L. sativus/cicero.
In general in this phase, we observed that the crops were
carefully processed before storage, since small amounts of
spikelet forks and glume caryopses were found (Fig. 2).
Seed sizes of Poaceae and Fabaceae weeds or contaminants
are generally very similar to those of cultivated cereals, and
this complicates their elimination from the grain during
both sieving and hand cleaning (Hillman 1981,1984; Jones
1984).
Veget Hist Archaeobot
123
The discontinuity with the Roman world was shown by
the important role of T. monococcum, and although it
produces bread with characteristics comparable to the best
wheat breads, it is rarely found in remains from the Roman
period and always in smaller amounts than T. dicoccum
(Castelletti et al. 2001). At Miranduolo, in addition to T.
monococcum, we found crops such as Secale,T. dicoccum
and Hordeum which are more productive under adverse
growing conditions and also easier to process than wheats.
Thus it becomes important to understand the role of T.
monococcum. Between the 6th and 10th centuries A.D.,
einkorn characterized the cereal assemblages both in urban
and rural sites in northern and central Italy, often being
more abundant than naked wheats, rye and barley. In the
north, this was observed in the towns of Brescia (Castelletti
and Maspero 1988; Castiglioni et al. 1999), Alba (Castel-
letti and Motella De Carlo 1999) and Parma (Bosi et al.
2011); in central Italy, in the village of Montarrenti, a site
20 km from Miranduolo (Cantini 2003). It is interesting to
note that these areas of northern Italy and Colline Metal-
lifere were mainly settled by Lombards (Brogiolo 1993;
Micheletto 2000; Azzara 2004; Valenti 2012), a Scandi-
navian population found in Italy from A.D. 569 until 774.
Thus we wonder whether T. monococcum should be con-
sidered a cereal cultivated by the Lombard people for
cultural reasons and/or eating preference. This possibility
has an interesting parallel in the Iberian Peninsula where T.
monococcum was used for making bread during the time of
Arabian dominance (Pen
˜a-Chocarro and Zapata Pen
˜a
1998). On the other hand, archaeological sources suggest a
domestic and subsistence crop production in the High
Middle Ages, as indicated by the absence of buildings for
crop storage in the settlements (Bianchi and Grassi 2012).
The historical sources show that the local aristocracy did
not interfere with the economic choices and the manage-
ment of agricultural resources of the villages (Wickham
2005). Thus, the low productivity of T. monococcum does
not disagree with these low-income economic contexts; in
fact, the agrarian economy during the village phase of
Miranduolo had a domestic and subsistence character, as
suggested by the storage in silo pits for the needs of single
family units.
The manor
The assemblages from the manorial phase, between the 9th
and 10th centuries A.D., showed that the farming of the
settlement was intended to produce valuable crops (Fig. 6).
The fillings of silo A and the remains in hut C28 mainly
contained single stored crops, V. faba and T. aestivum/
durum, respectively (Fig. 3). According to historical sour-
ces, these crops were sown, harvested and stored separately
from other cereals and legumes (Montanari 1979). As in
the previous phase, the fills of silo pits B, C and D con-
sisted of pit bottom residues from several goods succes-
sively stored during their use, mainly T. aestivum/durum,T.
monococcum, hulled Hordeum and P. miliaceum (Fig. 3).
These cereals were the same as those of the previous phase,
thus the manor continued and stabilized crop production in
the village.
The storehouses were the most important structures for
storage in the manorial court: the differences between the
records from the silo pits and the storehouses were sig-
nificant (Fig. 3). The similarity among the layers of ditch
F06 and storehouse C01 (Fig. 3) is explained by the fact
that the layer sampled in the ditch was located close to the
storehouse and it was therefore affected by the scattering of
seeds caused by fire and the collapse of this building. In
fact, in the storehouses, the predominance of large seeds
and free-threshing grains (L. sativus/cicera,T. aestivum/
durum,Secale cereal and V. faba), suggests that they had
probably been selected before being stored in the manorial
court. In late medieval Ferrara, the archaeobotanical record
suggests that some taxa with unusually large seeds or fruits
were considered to be better quality foods for the table of
the Este family court (Bosi et al. 2009). For Miranduolo,
our hypothesis is that the lord asked for grains of quality
not only for food, but also to be marketed elsewhere. The
small percentage of other crops (hulled Hordeum,P. mil-
iaceum and T. monococcum) could be interpreted as con-
taminants as suggested by Jones and Halstead (1995).
Our data show that among pulses, V. faba was common
in all the contexts and held a major role in farming (Fig. 6).
Among the species within the genus Lathyrus,L. sativus
(grass pea) is very similar to L. cicera (red pea), a weed of
cereals. The character used to differentiate between the two
species in the charred seeds of Miranduolo was the position
of the small oval hilum as previously described (Helbæk
1969; Renfrew 1973; Sadori and Susanna 2005). In medi-
eval sites the role of L. sativus and L. cicera as crops is
often ambiguous (Ruas 2005). Sadori and Susanna (2005)
indicated the use of L. sativus in a poor late Roman set-
tlement, suggesting either poor cultivation techniques or
the harvesting of wild plants. In Miranduolo, L. sativus and
L. cicera can be interpreted as cultivated because they were
found in large amounts in the storehouse (Fig. 3). These
pulses could be grown on the poorest soils and this indi-
cates the will to cultivate even the most difficult soils. L.
sativus is currently cultivated in central Italy and in Spain
both as fodder and as food (Pen
˜a-Chocarro and Zapata
Pen
˜a1999).
Other minor cereals found in this phase were T. dicoc-
cum and Avena, and these could be considered as con-
tamination of the cereal crops, where they were tolerated
by farmers (Fig. 6; Castelletti et al. 2001). In general, our
data confirmed the lack of interest in emmer and oat
Veget Hist Archaeobot
123
cultivation as inferred from both historical sources and
previous archaeobotanical studies in Italy (Montanari
1979; Costantini et al. 1983; Castelletti et al. 2001).
Other pulses were found in so low percentages that our
data cannot certainly support the hypothesis of their culti-
vation (Fig. 6); nevertheless, because of their characteris-
tics, it is also conceivable that they were probably sown on
the poorest soils. It is noteworthy that until few decades
ago in central Italy, the ‘Mociarino’ (the local name of V.
ervilia) was often considered the only alternative to
growing Secale. It was still sown between the ditches and
on the trampled borders of the fields.
Remains of charred fruit came from several contexts
related to the manorial court (Fig. 3); this evidence sug-
gests that their consumption was probably reserved for the
leading social class. Fruit and nut growing appears in this
phase; Juglans regia (walnut) and Prunus persica (peach)
are sporadic in the manor as well as in the castle, but in this
latter phase they were present in more than half of the
contexts (Fig. 6); the presence of luxury foods confirms the
abandonment of subsistence farming. P. persica stones
from the early Middle Ages are very rare in Italy and
mainly linked to urban sites (Sadori et al. 2009). Our data
show that during the High Middle Ages, peach trees were
even cultivated far from the towns. Castanea sativa
(chestnut) finds follow a similar pattern to P. persica and J.
regia; however, the charcoal analyses carried out on
material from the site revealed that Castanea was widely
used as timber in the village phase (Di Pasquale, unpub-
lished data). This indicates a change in the management of
Castanea which leads us to suppose that Castanea growing
started locally in the second half of the 9th century A.D.
These data disagree with the idea that Castanea cultivation
developed in the Roman period, and highlights the fact that
in central-southern Italy Castanea was used mainly for
timber until the early Middle Ages (Di Pasquale et al.
2010; Allevato et al. 2012). In wider terms, the quality of
the fruit taxa seems to show awareness of good cultivation
practices, and this does not support the common hypothesis
that during the Middle Age the gathering of wild plants was
more common than cultivation (Montanari 2002). Only a
few seeds and pedicels of Vitis vinifera ssp. vinifera
(grapevine) were found, and we hypothesize that its culti-
vation was limited to the production of the wine required
for church purposes at the site.
In this phase the amount of weed seeds was larger than
in the previous periods even though it remained low
(Fig. 3). In addition, a small number of spikelet forks were
found and this allows us to suggest that careful cleaning
operations were carried out before storage. In addition, the
presence of Secale,Hordeum and the dominant T. aes-
tivum/durum shows the selection of productive crops,
suggesting an improvement in farming management and in
resource selection (Fig. 6). T. monococcum cultivation did
not disappear, but cereals with better yields and easier
processing were preferred at that time. The low produc-
tivity of T. monococcum and the difficulty in dehusking it
probably conflicted with the new economic system.
The Lombard dominion in Italy was ended in central-
northern Italy by the Franks of Charlemagne in A.D. 774;
the transition from the village to the manorial court coin-
cided with the diffusion of the Carolingian feudal eco-
nomic system, when the great landlords began to control
the economies of the villages (Wickham 2005). In the
Colline Metallifere, archaeological sources show that
storehouses were built in the settlements between the 9th
and the 10th centuries A.D., in parallel with the new farming
system (Bianchi and Grassi 2012). In Miranduolo, a clear-
cut change in crop management happened: at this time the
largest pulses and the most productive and free-threshing
of the cereals were selected to be stored in the barns of the
manor court; this centralization of the best products was
part of the manorial economy.
The castle
The transition from manorial court to the castle coincided
with the establishment of the feudal economic system
(Wickham 2005). Cereals and pulses kept in storehouses
were analogous to the previous phase (Fig. 4), confirming
the preference for keeping stocks of major economic
importance in barns, and this is in agreement with this new
economic system. In one of the storehouses, V. faba was
the predominant pulse; L. sativus/cicera,V. sativa,V.
ervilia and Pisum sativum continued to be present, while
Cicer arietinum (chick pea) appeared (Fig. 4). These pulses
were often present in more than half of the contexts, but
their small percentages cannot fully support their cultiva-
tion in this phase (Fig. 6).
The data from the floor of the crop processing area show
that cereals were processed there (Fig. 4). The role of T.
monococcum in local farming is evident, but it was absent
from the storehouse.
Grapevine was indicated by grape pips and also by
charred pruning remains (Di Pasquale, unpublished data),
confirming the presence of a vineyard. The use of fruit and
nuts increased; Castanea and P. persica remains were
present in more than half of the contexts (Fig. 6).
In this phase, the presence of weeds was greater than in
the preceding phase (Fig. 4) and clearly this was due to less
care in the post-harvest cleaning. We wonder whether this
could be interpreted as the consequence of the new eco-
nomic structure in this area, which led to the necessity to
satisfy quickly and abundantly the rising demand from the
markets for agricultural products.
Veget Hist Archaeobot
123
Dimensional variation of caryopsis size of T. aestivum/
durum and T. monococcum
The analysis of the size changes variation of the grains of
naked wheat and einkorn reinforces the interpretative pic-
ture already discussed. A significant increase in caryopsis
length, width and thickness of T. aestivum/durum was
found in the transition from the village to the manorial
phase, whereas from the manorial to the castle phase the
caryopsis size remained similar (Table 2; Fig. 5). This size
increase can be considered a consequence of improvements
in farming. This improvement in grain quality, since large
fruit size is among the most desirable traits, could be the
result of human selection for specific plant attributes
(Lepofsky et al. 1998), by the intentional harvesting of the
best quality wheats to satisfy the lord’s request (Bosi et al.
2009). Furthermore, the size of T. aestivum/durum grains
from Miranduolo was even similar to those found at
Florence from the Communal Age (13th–14th centuries
A.D.) (Table 2; Fig. 5). This similarity is especially note-
worthy because it is known that in this period, Florence had
an advanced urban structure and thus excellent food
resources (Buonincontri et al. 2007a; Mariotti Lippi et al.
2013). This indicates that the selection of wheats with
larger grains took place in the rural settlements of the
manors and castles before the Communal Age. Production
surplus and trade were probably possible because of the use
of these crops; caryopsis sizes between the 9th and the 11th
centuries A.D. were probably the most which could be
achieved, at least until the 13th–14th centuries A.D.
On the contrary, grains of T. monococcum significantly
decreased in size from the beginning of the manor phase,
with values similar to those from Florence in the 13th–14th
centuries (Table 2; Fig. 5). Size reduction suggests a
change in the role of this cereal, which became more
marginal, starting from the Carolingian phase. On the other
hand, its continued presence in the assemblages shows
continuity in the choice of this cereal. Thus, this size
reduction could be a further confirmation of the cultural
significance of T. monococcum during the Lombard period.
Between the 9th and the 11th centuries A.D. and then
during the whole late Middle Ages in central Italy, T.
monococcum appears in such small quantities that it is
considered to have been a weed (Costantini et al. 1983;
Clark et al. 1989; Castiglioni and Rottoli 1997; Buonin-
contri et al. 2007a), or it is absent from the archaeobo-
tanical records (Nisbet 1999; Bandini Mazzanti et al. 2005;
Fiorentino et al. 2007). The range of T. monococcum has
receded to such a point since then, that today in Italy it is
grown only in tiny areas of the Daunian Apennines as a
local crop, often for bulgur or as animal feed (Perrino and
Hammer 1982; Hammer and Perrino 1984). These lands
belonged to the Duchy of Benevento, which survived as
Lombard up to the Norman conquest in the 11th century
A.D. A decrease in T. monococcum was also found in the
southwest French Massif Central, where from the 9th
century A.D., T. monococcum was found in such small
quantities that it was considered as a subsidiary crop or
even a tolerated weed (Ruas 2007).
Conclusion
This study has allowed us, for the first time in central Italy,
to understand from a deep and detailed time sequence,
from the middle of the 8th to the first quarter of the 11th
century A.D., the cultivation of crops by a rural settlement
during its transition from a Lombard farming village to a
Carolingian manorial court, and finally to a feudal castle
under the strong control of a landlord.
The presence of valuable crops such as T. aestivum/durum
and V. faba suggests continuity with the agricultural tradition
of the Roman world. Already from the 8th century A.D. the
inhabitants were able to produce good quality yields on
unfavourable soils, thanks to careful cultivation techniques.
The constant presence of hardier cereals such as T.
monococcum,Hordeum,Secale and P. miliaceum shows
the will to grow a wide range of crops in order to manage
any bad harvests, and it indicates the inhabitants’ aware-
ness of the low agricultural potential of the land. T.
monococcum can be considered a ‘‘cultural’’ element of
Lombard crops.
In the Carolingian period, the reduction of T. mono-
coccum in favour of more productive crops such as Secale
and Hordeum indicates a further improvement of produc-
tive capacity as also confirmed by the appearance of luxury
fruit trees. The final phase of the Carolingian empire and of
the period under a feudal economic system is characterized
by greater attention to an economy devoted to achieving a
production surplus.
Morphometric analysis validated the supposed
improvements of the productive processes from the village
to the manorial phase and the following significant loss of
importance of T. monococcum. This confirmed the cultural
significance of this crop in the Lombard period.
Acknowledgments This research was funded by the ‘‘Archeologia
dei Paesaggi Medievali’’ Project. The authors dedicate this work to the
memory of Professor Riccardo Francovich. We are grateful to the ref-
erees for their helpful and constructive suggestions through the paper.
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