BUTSER ANCIENT FARM ARCHIVE 1973-2007 Archivist Christine Shaw
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Storage of Grain in Underground Silos

Peter Reynolds has sometimes been called the "Father of the Roundhouse" but it should be remembered that his formal entry to the world of archaeology was through a PhD on the topic of grain storage. Naturally, his PhD, which is not publicly available, covered the background to the presence of underground silos [called pits by many and even by Reynolds (1986), as shorthand, but, in the wider context, it has to be remembered that pit is also used of an open hole] in the archaeological record. However, the real contribution was through his experimental work on the storage performance of such silos and his measurements which went on to show why they worked.

Reynolds reported on this programme in four Butser Ancient Farm Project Year Books (1986 - 89) and this page draws on them heavily. Fortunately the first gives an overview of the work leading up to and including his PhD.

Reynolds P J “Grain Storage in Underground Silos”  in Butser Ancient Farm Yearbook 1986. (Outline & conclusions only given)

The most crucial result of all is perhaps that :

After seventeen years of continuous successive use to store cereals, the grain stored in the experimental pits at Little Butser had as high a germinability (in excess of 95%) in the last year as in any year before. Reynolds considered this long enough to demonstrate the feasibility of use of such underground pits for grain storage as an alternative to above-ground methods. The high germinability, in his view, strongly suggested they were indeed used as stores for seed for planting. He maintained that the pits were innocent containers that could be re-used with minimal maintenance.

Reynolds (1986) points out that Bersu (1940) was the first to hypothesise the use of at least some underground pits as grain stores and even before his thesis (1978) Reynolds was exploring the concept (1967, 1969, 1974).


Bersu, G 1940 "Excavations at Little Woodbury, Wiltshire" Proc. Prehist. Soc., 6 , 30-111

Reynolds P J 1967 "Experiments in Iron Age Agriculture", Trans.Bristol & Glocs. Arch. Soc., 86 , 60-73

Reynolds P J 1969 "Experiments in Iron Age Agriculture", Trans. Bristol & Glocs. Arch.Soc., 88 , 29-33

Reynolds P J 1974 "Experimental Iron Age Storage Pits : an interim report", Proc. Prehist. Soc., 40 , 118-131

Reynolds P J 1978 "The Experimental Storage of Grain in Underground Silos", Leicester University UK -

unpub. Ph.D thesis

Reynolds P J 1979 "A General Report of Underground Grain Storage Experiments at the Butser Ancient Farm Research Project" in "Les Techniques de Conservation des Grains a Long Terme" Vol.1 pp 57-90 CNRS Paris

R A Hill, J Lacey, P J Reynolds, "Storage of Barley Grain in Iron Age Type Underground Pits", J. stored Prod. Res., 1983, 19, No4, 163-171

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