People in the Iron Age were farmers and were not in constant conflict with their neighbours. They would have farmed livestock and crops just like today to feed and provide the clothing and objects they needed to live.
It is believed that livestock was moved each year from the lowland paddocks, where they were kept in the winter, to the summer pasture on the mountains and moors. This is known as transhumance and is still carried out today and hillforts may have been used to house the animals when they were kept in the uplands. Livestock, such as sheep and cows, were important and therefore needed to be protected. In the past there were predators such as bears, wild boars and wolves which would have posed a threat to their precious livestock. The ramparts and palisade of the hillfort would have provided somewhere to keep the livestock safe. The cattle they kept would have resembled today’s Dexters in appearance and size. Sheep and goats would have been more common, sheep resembling the small and wiry Soay breed.
The animals were not kept just for their meat. It seems the level of meat in the diet was low and therefore domestic animals were only slaughtered on rare occasions, it is more likely that wild animals would have been hunted for meat. The cattle would have been used to pull carts and ploughs and the wool from sheep and goats, and hides from the cattle, would have been used to make clothing and containers with the horns and bones being used to make items, such as needles and handles. The guts would have been used to make cord and bladders made into waterproof containers.
They grew a number of wheat varieties, emmer, spelt and breadwheat as well as Barley. Beans were also cultivated as were peas and lentils. It is hard to find where they did this as the best possible places to grow crops are likely to be the same as today and therefore all traces will have been lost. These foods were the staples with eggs, milk products and cheese being the main sources of protein. The cereals that they grew would have been ground into flour for making bread. Querns used to grind the flour came in two types: saddle querns, in which an upper stone was pushed and pulled across a lower one, and a rotary quern, often shaped like a bun or beehive, that could be turned with a projecting wooden handle. Cereal crops may have been fermented to make beer as water would not have been safe to drink.
There is also evidence that they were very successful at growing crops and were storing the excess grain. Possible grain stores have been found at Moel y Gaer, Rhosesmor which consisted of a building raised on four posts where the grain could be stored out of reach of vermin and animals. There is also evidence for using pits to store grain. It seems wrong to store grain in damp pits underground but experiments carried out at Butser ancient farm have discovered that the technique is extremely effective. Provided there is an airtight seal to the pit, the grain that comes in contact with the damp walls germinates, using up all the available oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. This puts the remainder of the bulk into suspended animation. It keeps for months, until the seal is broken.
People in the Iron Age would have still gathered things from the wild to add to the foods they were growing, such as wild herbs to add flavour and variety. Wild fruits and honey would have been prized as a source of sugar. Salt, made on the coast by evaporating seawater was possibly highly valued. And, of course, they would also have collected ‘wild foods’ such as nuts, berries and plants.
Wood was essential in the Iron Age. Wood would have been needed to make houses, for fires to keep warm and cook food, for defensive fences and gateways, to make bowls and cups,etc. Therefore they needed to manage the woodlands that surrounded them to make sure they had a constant supply. This would have been done by coppicing and pollarding trees to produce long straight poles that were used in wattle walls, fences, fuel and weaving.