7 Wijnaldum – seaweed for cattle? (Fig. 3: 5)
During the excavation of the settlement mound (terp) of Wijnaldum in the province of Friesland, charred fruits of Zostera marina were encountered in a pit dated to the 6th-7th century AD. The same pit contained charred barley grains and many grass-stem fragments as well as some seeds and fruits from pioneer, grassland and saltmarsh vegetation (Pals 1999). Excluding fire accidents, charred seeds of eelgrass can only be the result of using the plants either as a source of minerals or as a fuel. However, eelgrass does not burn very well by itself, so it was probably not the first choice for fuel unless the aim was not warmth but, for example, smoke. In the treeless surroundings of the tidal flats, dried dung might, however, take over the role of firewood, and this dung might have contained eelgrass fruits, as is suggested by J.-P. Pals. And indeed, the other wild species present in this feature do summon up an image of a grazing meal on the high and low saltmarsh. It is furthermore documented that cows enjoy eelgrass, once they acquire the taste, walking into the sea to obtain it, and that Scottish farmers would use it as fodder (Houttuyn 1793, 245). In western Norway, eelgrass was fed to cattle, sheep and horses in winter. When dried, farmers cooked it into a swill, or mixed it with other fodder to make it more attractive to their livestock (Alm 2003).