Did sheep/goat eat up the Neolithic forest? - Palynology of sheep/goat faeces from prehistoric pile-dwellings of Switzerland

Haas, J.N.
    Department of Botany, University of Innsbruck, Sternwartestraße 15, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria
A review of the pollen and macrofossil content found in prehistoric sheep/goat dung pellets from pile-dwelling sites in Switzerland reveals interesting foddering trends towards understanding prehistoric agricultural techniques during the Neolithic Period (4300-2200 BC):
  1. Most faeces analysed palynologically represent fodder consumption in winter or early spring near or within the former settlements.
  2. Leaves and twigs of wintergreen plants such as Rubus fruticosus s.l. and Abies alba were an important fodder resource.
  3. Additional foddering with early flowering twigs from shrubs such as Corylus avellana and Alnus sp. was done in early spring in times of shortage.
  4. Foddering of goat/sheep with food garbage (e.g. cereal grains or cereal waste products) seems to have been the exception during prehistoric times.
  5. Winter-Foddering of prehistoric goat/sheep with dry tree leaves and twigs gained by pollarding or shredding in the previous summer (e.g. Tilia spec. or Ulmus spec.) was obviously less common than known from historical times.
All in all, the foddering techniques used for goat/sheep during the Neolithic and Bronze Age Period point to the direct use of all available plant resources in winter and early spring. The results do not support the idea and historically known tradition that large quantities of plant fodder were stored in late summer and autumn for such animals in order to have enough fodder in winter. However, such an agricultural technique might have existed prehistorically for larger livestock, such as cows.