BUTSER ANCIENT FARM ARCHIVE 1973-2007 Archivist Christine Shaw
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Romano-British "Grain Dryer"

The finished construct is illustrated below, before any experiments had been undertaken. Its size, shape and general working arrangements were based on the most complete excavation of four similar buildings. The under-floor flue system and fragments of a chalk-soil covering, with imprints of planks, survived to a height of one metre (Reynolds and Langley 1979).


















Peter Reynolds argued that early interpretations of such structures are  flawed (Reynolds and Langley). Much had been made previously, of the presence of charred grains but interviews with farmers showed that it is commonplace to use dry straw (which always has a small residue of grain) to start fires for farming purposes. What better kindling could there be?

The greatest flaw, however, is technological. All the evidence, both at the type site, used for the Butser construct, and at other survivals, is that the floor was sealed. Thus, NO air flow through the grain bed can occur, to carry away the evaporating water. An analogy may be made to the barrier to the drying out of soils created when the surface is tilled (Ploughing, Hoeing)

So, even though the experiments showed that slow drying was possible, the time involved to dry a complete harvest would appear to be unrealistic (700-1200 hours for a ten tonne yield), even in a less frenetic age. Ethnographic evidence was given from around the British Isles to show that known drying procedures, akin to those supposed to relate to the Romano-British barn, required both constant attention and a through flow of air.

Supplementary experiments demonstrated that the barn readily produced "malted" grain, a key preliminary in the brewing process, a widespread and long-standing outlet for cereals! The results compare with known excavation examples of partially sprouted ("chitted" is a UK term in brewing) seeds from a related Romano-British site (Reynolds and Langley).

The conclusion is that structures in the category tested are at least as likely (and more than probably so) to be malting barns rather than drying barns, whilst other purposes, as yet unrecognised, are not excluded.

References

Reynolds P.J. and Langley J.K. "Romano-British Corn Drying Oven: an Experiment" Archaeology J. 136 (1979)  27-42


For images of the construction click here.