Monday, May 5, 2014

Above Where Any Farmer Would Now Think of Ploughing

                     Newburgh (looking east), Fife, Scotland

from:
Lindores Abbey and Its Burgh of Newburgh:  Their History and Annals
Alexander Laing, George Seton, Anthony Hamilton
Chapter 1:  Prehistoric
pages 3,4.
1876

In a district so thoroughly cultivated as Fife, most of the traces of primitive occupation have been obliterated by the plough, but on the southern shoulder of the hill immediately behind Newburgh, a little west from Ormiston, may still be seen the foundation of one of those primeval circular huts, of which numerous clusters remain, where they happen to be out of the range of cultivation.  The floor of the hut measures thirty feet in diameter, and, like almost all of the kind that have been discovered, the doorway faces the south.  There seems no reason to doubt that this is the remains of one of those kind of huts, having a tapering roof of straw or wattles, which Julius Caesar found the inhabitants of the southern portion of the island occupying at the time of his invasion (B.C. 55) [1] .  In its immediate neighbourhood we have evidence that its occupants had advanced beyond the nomadic state, and were in the enjoyment of the comforts derived from the cultivation of the soil.  Close by, where there are patches of soil of that rich dry kind to be found on the shelves of the trap formation, are still to be seen several short, narrow, high-raised ridges, evidently the remains of primitive agriculture.  Close at hand there are also yet to be seen traces of a small square fold for cattle, so well chosen, that in stormy weather the flocks still seek shelter in and around it.  There is of very necessity much obscurity regarding primitive agriculture, -- the silent on-goings of peace taking less hold on the imagination or memory, than the feats of war, and they are therefore left unrecorded.  But beyond all doubt, there are in many places 'marks of cultivation at a height above where any farmer would now think of ploughing or sowing.'[2]  One explanation of this may be found in the fact, that the low lands, at that period, were either in a state of morass, utterly unfit for bearing grain, or overgrown with wood.  As usual, when the people meet with any work of antiquity which they do not understand, they attribute it to supernatural agency, -- this elevated tillage is accordingly known, in many parts of the country, as elf furrows.  The very small patches, however, which exhibit evidence of cultivation, show how circumscribed were the agricultural operations in these early times, and how dependent the population must have been on their cattle, and perhaps in no less a degree, on the chase, for sustenance.[3]

[1]  See Wilson's Prehistoric Annals, chap. iv., for an interesting account of these primitive dwellings; also 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries,' Vol. VI., pp. 402-410, for an equally interesting account of groups of them at Balnabroch, in the parish of Kirkmichael, Strathardle; by John Stuart, LL.D., Secy. of the Society of Antiq.  There are traces of the foundation of a smaller hut, 20 feet in diameter, adjacent to the one mentioned in the text.

[2]  Cosmo Innes, Pro. of Soc. of Ant., Vol. V., p. 203; Sinclair's Statist. Acct., Vol. II., p. 582.

[3]  The numerous terraces which are found on hillsides in Scotland are believed, with good reason, to have been thrown up for the cultivation of grain; and it is obvious, that this mode of treating the soil must have had the same effect as draining in modern times, making the ground thrown up no only deeper but drier, and fitter for bearing crops.

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