Donnerstag, 17. Oktober 2019

Seasonality in rural settlements - Ruralia XIII

Seasonality is a crucial aspect of premodern agriculture in quite different ways. Shielings and transhumance gained more and more interests in recent years. They were also in the centre of many papers and posters from Greenland in the north and Spain and Serbia in the south. However, it is not only transhumance, alp economy or nomadism. There are other resources used in rural landscapes at a seasonal basis, as for example hunting, fishing or seaweed harvesting.

This year's XIII Ruralia conference “Seasonal Settlement in the Medieval and Early Modern Countryside“ held at Stirling in Scotland 9th to 15th of september 2019 had 26 papers and several posters dealing with all aspects of seasonality in medieval and early modern rural landscapes.

The organizing committee provided a bundle of key questions:
  • How do we recognise seasonal settlement? How do we know it is seasonal?
  • What form do these activities take and how was the associated settlement organised?
  • What is the environmental evidence for seasonal settlement? This may be proxy data such as pollen rain, physical evidence in the landscape of past land-use or environmental data from excavations of seasonal settlements of whatever kind.
  • What is the dating for these activities and how does it relate to other forms of evidence, including documentary sources?
  • How were these activities affected by economic drivers such as population growth and decline and consequent changes which may be reflected in the archaeology or in land-use change?

The papers brought many case studies related to these questions. 


  • Richard Oram, Too much environment and not enough history: the opportunities and challenges in researching seasonal settlement in Atlantic Europe.
  • Caterina Tente and Margarita Fernandez Mier, Archaeological research on seasonal settlement in the south-west part of Europe - an overview.
Panel 1: Seasonal settlement in southern Europe
  • Elizabeth Waldhart – Archaeological research into seasonal settlement in a medieval and early modern countryside landscape in East-Tyrol, Austria.
  • Anna Maria Stagno – A multi-disciplinary approach to the relationship between seasonal settlements and multiple uses: case studies from southern Europe (10th-21st Century).
  • Fabián Cuesta-Gómez and Sara Prata - Plows, herds and chafurdões: vernacular architecture and land-use in modern Castelo de Vide (Alto Alentejo, Portugal). (Poster)
  • Anita Rapan Papesa, and Pia Smalcelj Novakovic - From Roman villa rustica to modern farmers’ grange – specific way of seasonal settlements in eastern Croatia. (Poster)
  • Ugljesa Vojvodic - Transhumance in medieval Serbia. (Poster)
Panel 2: Seasonal settlement in eastern Europe
  • Elena Mikhaylova – Early medieval seasonal and temporary settlements in the forest zone of eastern Europe: the case of the culture of Pskov long barrows.
  • Maria Vargha and Tibor Ákos Rácz – Enduring memory - changing landscape around AD 1000 in Hungary.
  • Tuuli Heinonen – From seasonal settlement to medieval villages? Early medieval settlement in coastal region of Uusimaa, Southern Finland.
  • Ivan Valent and Tajana Sekelj Ivancan – In which part of the year did the iron smelting in the Drava valley occur?
  • Tomas Klir and Martin Janovsky - Seasonal activities and settlements in medieval and early modern Czech Lands. (Poster)
  • Florin Marginean, - Isolated households and some seasonal crafts from Lower Mures Basin in the Arpadian Age. (Poster)
  • Edith Sarosi - Farmyards, stable-yards, loading platforms and other seasonal or temporary settlement forms in early modern Hungary. (Poster)
Panel 3: Seasonal Settlement on the Coast
  • Kevin Grant – Song of the seaweed gatherers: kelp, seasonality, and coastal settlement in later 18th century Hebrides.
  • Leif Lauritsen – Albuen, the king’s herring market, Denmark.
  • Rowin van Lanen – Farmers, artisans and traders: modelling seasonal activities in the Dutch delta during the Middle Ages.
  • Bert Groenewoudt - Seasonality as a recurrent episode in North Sea coastal wetland settlement. (Poster)
Panel 4: Seasonal settlement in northern European
  • Rhiannon Comeau and Bob Silvester – Seasonal settlement in Wales.
  • Eugene Costello – Seasonal upland settlement as an indicator of ‘glocalisation’ in rural northern Europe, c.1350-1850.
  • Gudrun Norstedt - Changes in seasonal settlement patterns of the forest Sami in Fennoscandia
  • Christian Madsen – Seasonal settlement and mobility in medieval Norse Greenland
  • Therese Nesset – In the ruins of a medieval farm – post-medieval outland use and seasonal living in a mountain area of western Norway
  • Andreas Hennius - Outland exploitation and the emergence of seasonal settlements. (Poster)
  • Eva Svensson - Seasonal and/or permanent? Entangled flexibility in the Scandinavian forested mountains. (Poster & cheese)
Panel 5: Seasonal industry and trade
  • Darroch Bratt – Whisky distilling in rural post-medieval Scotland
  • Margarita Fernandez Mier and Pablo Gomez – Multi-functionality of grazing areas in the Cantabrian mountains
  • Kjetil Loftsgarden – Seasonal settlements and the production of iron in the Norwegian mountains
  • Cynthia Colling – Three cases of iron production sites in Luxembourg: seasonal, specific occasion or year-round?
Panel 6: Trading, herding and nomadism
  • Laszlo Ferenczi – Seasonality and the logistics of late medieval and early modern cattle trade in Hungary
  • Marie Odegaard – Settlements by seasonal horse markets in inland Norway
  • Jose Carvajal Lopez – Long term patterns of nomadic and sedentary settlement in The Crowded Desert of NW Qatar
  • Oula Seitsonem - Seasonal settlement of the Sámi reindeer herders in northernmost Fennoscandia c. 800–1950. (Poster)
Panel 7: Woodlands and Seasonal settlement
  • Mireia Celma-Martinez and Elena Muntán-Bordas – Dendrochronological research to track transhumance through shepherds’ woodcarving in the Pyrenees
  • Andrew Margetts – To browse and mast and meadow glades: seasonal settlement in the Weald of south-east England
  • Sylvain Burri – “Living in the woods, living on pastures”. A historical and archaeological comparative study of seasonal pastoral and craft-related settlements in medieval and post-medieval Southern France
  • Ian Maclellan – 'This piece of singular bad neighbourhood': disputed upland grazing and deer preservation in Mamlorn Forest, Scotland 1730-1744
  • Czilla Zatyko - Places, territories and routes of medieval and early modern practice of pannage in Hungary. (Poster)
After a peer-review the papers will be published in a conference volume, probably at the opportunity of the next Ruralia conference 2021 in Portugal

Excursion during Ruralia XIII to Glen Dollar
(Foto: R. Schreg)

Some personal observations

Ruralia XIII was(once again) a successful and very instructive conference. Looking back after some weeks there are some general observations, which may be of some more general interest. 
What became clear was that it is indeed difficult to identify seasonality in the archaeological record. The papers argued with the thickness of cultural layers, with the amount of finds or with written evidence. One paper presented the find of a tree leaf as an indicator for seasonal occupation and found during the following discussion quite approval by the audience. Though, this argumentation is quite common in palaeolithic archaeology, but usually refers to a series of seasonal indicators, not to a single find. This seems to be even more important for medieval and post-medieval societies, because - in contrast to palaeolithic hunter-gatherers -  seasonal occupation can’t be taken for granted, a single seasonal date is therefore insufficient. No other paper argued with archaeobotanical finds, indicating that still today the common archaoelogist isn't aware of the huge potential and importance of botancial finds.
In some of the case studies occupation has probably better to be labelled as short-term than seasonal. In many European landscapes rural settlements were not permanent at the scale of one generation but shifted in quite short time periods. ‘Seasonality’ therefore has to be defined closer as the repeating occupation during an economic cycle, usually one year.
Onother aspect popping up from several papers was the question of gender. It became clear, that 19th/20th c. ideas about gender roles are not applicable for earlier times. However this debate has to recognize the whole range of historical data - the archaeological record is often quite problematic to detect gender roles.

Looking back on the papers it seems, that despite of the broad variety of several seasonal activities the topic is rather related to open mountainous landscapes, than to forest. On the one hand, this may be due to the fact, that seasonality is indeed a land use practice mainly related with marginal landscapes (the topic of Ruralia VII), on the other hand, however, these are also the landscapes, where the traces of seasonal settlements are detectable most easily. In today forested landscapes or modern agrarian landscapes the traces of shielings don't have sufficient chance to be found or even to be preserved.


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