Food and farming

Despite changes in the climate in the Iron Age, agriculture thrived in this period. Farmers relied on domestic plants and animals, but also hunted and gathered wild foods. They lived according to the seasonal cycle.

Plants and animals in the Iron Age

Many Iron Age settlements lay in lower terrain, close to wetlands. Here, bogs were exploited for peat and bog iron, whilst damp meadows were used for cattle grazing in the summer. In the drier parts of the landscape, people grew cereal crops like barley, wheat, oats and rye, as well as flax and pulses in small embanked fields. Cereals and vegetables would be the most important foodstuffs in Grauballe Man’s time, but Iron Age farmers also kept cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, ducks and geese. These animals were eaten, but cattle, sheep and goats were more important for their milk and wool, whilst birds also provided eggs. Cattle manure was and important fertiliser for the fields and cattle could also be used to pull wagons and the ards used to plough the fields.

Wild food

In addition to the domestic plants and animals, people gathered wild foodstuffs like edible mushrooms, nuts, apples and berries. Occasionally they hunted deer, wild boar and wildfowl, like ducks and geese. Dogs, also commonly found in Iron Age settlements, may have been taken on hunting trips. Along the coast people collected mussels and oysters and they fished in lakes, rivers and the sea.

Daily life

Many of the daily activities of common Iron Age people would have revolved around farming and food in one way or another. People ploughed their fields using a primitive plough (or ard), and they sowed crops which needed to be weeded and tended whilst growing. In the spring cattle were grazed in damp meadows and sheep and goats were sheared. The animals were also milked and cheese was made. Throughout the summer and autumn people collected, plucked and dried a range of funghi, fruits and nuts. Crops were harvested in autumn and cereal grains were threshed and winnowed before storage. They were also ground to flour on a daily basis, so people could make bread and prepare soup, porridge or the kind of gruel that was found in Grauballe Man’s guts. On the rare occasion that an animal was slaughtered, or when a hunting party shot a deer or boar, there was enough meat to last for months, so this too was prepared for storage. Similarly, some of the fish and wildfowl that were caught were dried or smoked so they could be stored for the long winter months.