Tracking the British agricultural revolution through the isotopic analysis of dated parchment

Sean Doherty*, Michelle Marie Alexander, Stuart Henderson, Jason Newton, Jonathan Cedric Finch, Matthew James Collins

*Corresponding author for this work

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Between the sixteenth and nineteenth century, British agriculture underwent a ‘revolutionary’ transformation. Yet despite over a century of research and the recognised centrality of agricultural developments to industrialisation and population growth, the character or chronology of any ‘revolution’ during this period remains contentious. Enquiry has been hampered by the fragmented and locally specific nature of historic accounts and the broad dating of early-modern zooarchaeological assemblages. To address this, we conducted stable isotope analysis on 658 legal documents written on sheepskin parchment; a unique biological resource that records the day, month and year of use (AD 1499 to 1969). We find these provide a high temporal resolution analysis of changing agricultural practices and episodes of disease. Most significantly, they suggest that if an ‘Agricultural Revolution’ occurred in livestock management, it did so from the mid-nineteenth century, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.
Original languageEnglish
Article number61
Number of pages7
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2023

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