Sweet chestnut nut fragments from Romano-British sites at Castle Street, Carlisle and Great Holts Farm, Boreham, Essex – a new assessment

Author(s): Rob Jarman, Peter Marshall, Robin Allaby, James Davies, Bronk Ramsey, Elaine Dunbar, Paula Reimer, Frank M Chambers

Only two finds of sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) nuts have been reported from any archaeological or environmental investigation for the pre-medieval period in Great Britain: from Castle Street, Carlisle, Cumbria (one nut pericarp fragment, in 1983); and from Great Holts Farm, Boreham, Essex (pericarp fragments from circa five nuts, in 1995). Castle Street, Carlisle was presumed Roman period and Great Holts Farm was contextually dated to the 3rd century AD, but the nut fragments were not comprehensively examined or dated. A new research study during 2014– 2017 into the origins of sweet chestnut in Great Britain recovered the original specimens from their museum archives for re-examination. Direct radiocarbonanalysis has confirmed that the Great Holts Farm nuts are of the Roman period (early–mid 3rd century AD); however, the Castle Street nut has been dated as ‘modern’. Analysis of the genetic composition of the nut pericarps was attempted, but aDNA analysis was unsuccessful. The sweet chestnuts at Great Holts Farm were found together with other exotic (Mediterranean) foods, seeming to indicate that these nuts were imported rather than grown in Great Britain and appearing to be the remains of a single feast event. The Great Holts Farm specimens are now the sole evidence for sweet chestnut nuts being found in Great Britain for the whole of the historic period up to the medieval.

Report Number:
Research Report
Plant Remains Post Medieval Radiocarbon Dating Roman


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