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British Strip Lynchets

  • J. W. Macnab

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One difficulty with the interpretation of strip lynchets has been caused by our traditional viewpoint: we have stood in the valley and looked up at them. In Asia terraces do start at the foot of hills and are constructed upwards. Perhaps unconsciously we have believed that strip lynchets were created in the same way. The uniqueness of these terraces may lie in their construction from the top of the escarpment downwards. Many difficulties are resolved when we stand and look at the terraces from above. Then we observe a flight of steps and perhaps it was down these that agriculture passed from downland to lowland.

It is generally believed that in Britain there were two independent agricultural origins, that primitive farmers first cultivated the light soils of the chalk downlands and western hills, and only later, after a heavy plough had been introduced from abroad by invading peoples, were the heavy soils of the lowlands tilled. Rarely is it believed that lowland agriculture in Britain developed from downland agriculture, that agriculture had undergone continuous development and that one type had merged into the other.

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The problem of strip lynchets in Britain, those terraces on the chalk escarpments, has been studied for more than a century, and has often been discussed in the pages of ANTIQUITY in the last 40 years. But it must be admitted that although much new work has been done recently, very few ideas have hitherto been forthcoming. This article by a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geography, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, is a fresh approach to an old problem. Mr Macnab has formulated new ideas as a result of his land-use studies in Japan, New Zealand and Britain, and he argues that our British strip lynchets are transitional terraces between downland and lowland agriculture.

British Strip Lynchets

  • J. W. Macnab

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