'Celtic Fields' – Orphans of Archaeology
Traces of bronze and iron age farming in western, northern and central Europe – Website under construction! (Ready in German language: Schleswig-Holstein and (without texts) Denmark)

Surface Lidar data, more and more publicly available, cover increasing areas in a sufficient quality. They lead to knowledge of numerous Celtic Fields in Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark: small more or less rectangular close-packed field parcels forming coherent systems, which are still recognizable on favourable terms. Meanwhile more than 1000 Systems are registrated mainly in ancient forests, in Denmark also in actual and forested heathland. More than 50 systems cover more than one square kilometer: distinctive territories, whose outer borders were subject of dynamics and remain thus vague. Where they occur, they are by far the largest prehistoric ground monuments! Otherwise system sizes are found sometimes which may be cultivated by only one single farm.

Celtic Fields in the Außelbek forest at Ülsby, Anglia, Schleswig-Holstein. Data © LVermGeo SH / Celtic Fields in Europe (after Arnoldussen 2018)

Prevailing on sandy soils at least parts of the parcel borders seem to be created in form of narrow embankments. Obviously long-time ploughing and cultivating lead to increasing raising and widening of the parcel borders of its own volition, combined with an increasingly through-like form of the parcels. An investigation of a faintly pronounced parcel border in the Riesewohld forest, Dithmarschen, came to a cultivation span of ca. 600 years. Dates from other systems resulted in similar or even longer time spans. Regularly traces of manuring are found in the ploughed soil of the parcel borders in the form of intensily broken house litter.


'Ploughman of Arezzo', etruscan bronze figurine, mid of the first millenium BC (left, wood engraving, 19th c.) – Ard types from danish bogs in Himmerland (right, above Døstrup, below Vebbestrup) after Viggo Nielsen / Glob

The wide layout diversity of the systems is mainly dependent on soil type and relief. Thus there are main differences in upper and lower moraine areas. An overall development becomes apparent from more or less quadratic parcels to narrow oblonge-sized ones. While the former were ploughed crossswise with ards as proved accasionally, extremely long and small parcels may be cultivated bidirectional possibly by a mouldboard plough. Small ridge-and-furrow systems were created respecting the old Celtic Field parcel borders in some Danish systems, which may indicate a partial continuity over the "dark ages" after the migration period.

At slopes, the ridges between the parcels convert to pronounced terrain steps (lynchets). Ostenberg, Stemweder Berge, northeastern Westfalia (with slice). Data: Land NRW 2017

It remains still vague which and to what extent parcels lay fallow or were used as pastures. Anyway, the forming of the parcels may be much more a result of soil cultivation than of grazing. A further scope of duty is the dating of the systems and their usage periods. Certainly insufficent first dates cannot exclude that Celtic Fields may origin during the early Nordic Bronze Age, though the known buildings show still no evidence of stables. Definitely they are present since the younger Nordic Bronze Age, together with the beginnings of indoor housing of animals, which could be iniciated by climatic decreases and is evident by changed house layouts. Contemporarily a stationary agriculture was possible over centuries which may have replaced prevailing migrating cultivation. Animal housing leads to an accumulation of manure, bedding and litter which was spread at the parcels for fertilisation, together with soil material prevailing from wet grounds. All this represents a coequal change to the agraric "revolution" at the beginning of the neolithic.

Back © Volker Arnold 2019