Gathering the Harvest

Collating evidence for the Rural Economy of Iron Age and Roman Cambridgeshire

A citizen science project by the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, generously supported by the Royal Archaeological Institute

The arrival of the Romans in Britain in AD 43 brought about major changes to the lives of the local British population. One of the most profound was long distance transport along the new-built Roman roads. However, while archaeologists understand how manufactured goods like pottery and metalwork were distributed, they know much less about how plants were moved. This is a crucial gap because plants were fundamental to life and the economy in Roman Britannia: grains and vegetables were staples of the Roman diet, chaff provided fodder and fuel, reeds and sedges were used for thatching, and peat burned for fuel.

This project will reveal how people distributed plants across Cambridgeshire. The county is one of the most heavily-excavated landscapes in Britain, and has a wealth of archaeological data to work with. To understand the impact of Rome, we will contrast distribution patterns in the Roman period (AD43 to 410) with the preceding later Iron Age (c.400 BC to AD43).

The results of the project will be submitted to The Archaeological Journal and the Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society by the end of 2021. The project databases will be lodged with the Cambridgeshire Historic Environment Record so other researchers can build of our work. 


Archaeologists and archaeobotanists have analysed plant remains from hundreds of Iron Age and Roman sites in Cambridgeshire. In this project, we looking for volunteers to put their spreadsheets into a consistent format, so the data can be combined and compared consistently. We'll also need people to read excavation reports, to check when these remains date from.  No knowledge of botany is required, just the ability to match up lists of plant names (although people with  knowledge of local botany are most welcome). The only tools you will need are Word and Excel on your computer, along with internet access to access the reports online. 

We are also looking for historians interested in combing historic sources for evidence for the trade and transport of plants in Britannia.


The project will be done entirely online, so you can do it from home. We will also be holding meetings via Zoom so you can discuss the project with others in the team. We will also have informal talks from our specialist advisors for everyone participating. 

You can download more information on volunteering for the project from here.  

Tracking plant movement

This project will track the movements of plants in the past by looking at the weeds recovered from archaeological excavations. While some weeds grow in many environments, others are more particular. For instance, sedges and rushes need lots of water, so they mostly grow close to rivers and in fen. This means that, if they are recovered from archaeological sites away from their natural growing conditions, then people may have transported them, either for fodder or thatching, or their seeds might be in grain grown by the fen.  

Cambridgeshire is an excellent part of Britain to track movement via weeds because it has a number of distinct geologies (chalk, clay, gravel) and also a major distinction between uplands and fen, which creates four major 'plant zones'.  

Soil map.jpg

This project is being organised by the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, generously supported by a grant from the Royal Archaeological Institute, with data and advice being provided by Oxford Archaeology East, the Cambridge Archaeological Unit and Pre-Construct Archaeology.


The project is free for all members of CAS and any of its affiliated member organisations, which include most of the local history and archaeology groups in Cambridgeshire. 

If you are not a member, but would like to participate, you can join CAS by downloading a form here. Individual and family membership is £20 a year. Benefits of membership include free admission to CAS's conferences and monthly talks, free copies of its publications, and free access to the Haddon Library. Please visit the CAS website for more information.  


Register to volunteer


Thank you for registering.
You will receive an email from the organisers in the next few days.

CAS logo.png

Haddon Library, Downing Street
Cambridge CB2 3DZ