Roman impact on the landscape near castellum Fectio, The Netherlands

Valerie van den Bos, Otto Brinkkemper, Ian D Bull, Stefan Engels, Tom Hakbijl, Mans Schepers, Marieke van Dinter, Guido BA van Reenen, Bas van Geel

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Castellum Fectio was one of the largest fortifications along the Limes, the northern border of the Roman Empire. The castellum, situated 5 km southeast of Utrecht, the Netherlands, was occupied from around the start of our Era to ca. a.d. 260. It was situated along a river bend of the Rhine that was cut off from the main stream during the occupation of the Roman fort. A 6 m long sediment sequence was recovered from the infill of the residual channel and pieces of Roman wall plaster, glume bases of Triticum spelta and radiocarbon dates indicate that the sediments were deposited during the period of Roman occupation. The combined palaeoecological analyses—palynological, macrobotanical, entomological and geochemical—allow a detailed reconstruction of changing environmental conditions as a consequence of the Roman occupation. The pollen record reveals a dramatic decrease in arboreal pollen, suggesting that the Romans were involved in large-scale deforestation, transforming semi-open parkland to a landscape of meadows and agricultural fields. Non-pollen palynomorphs, botanical macrofossils and insect remains support this conclusion. The recorded mycoflora shows a shift from assemblages characterised by the tree pathogen Kretzschmaria deusta to assemblages dominated by spores of fungi associated with herbaceous plants, concurrent with the decrease in arboreal pollen. The presence of masticated bran fragments of cereals, clover remains, eggs of intestinal parasites and entomological and geochemical data in the upper part of the sequence indicates that these sediments largely consist of faeces that were dumped into the former channel. Surprisingly, seeds of salt tolerant species are encountered in the sediments of this inland site, which was situated outside the influence of the sea. Horses may have brought these seeds to Fectio in their intestinal tracts after grazing in coastal meadows.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-298
Number of pages23
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
Issue number3
Early online date4 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2014

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 06/12/2013


  • Roman impact
  • Palaeoecology
  • Palynology
  • Deforestation
  • The Netherlands


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