Past And Present Concepts Of Marginality

The concept of marginality in relation to land use varies historically. In the modern world, where local economies are affected by the existence of competitors in distant parts of the globe, the successful pursuit of agriculture depends on more than just the fluctuations of local environmental conditions. The concept of marginality in relation to modern land use therefore requires some elaboration. An area that may be marginal for wheat production may not be marginal for other cereals such as oats or barley. In relation to farming marginal is a comparative term and any particular situation can be considered as marginal only where there is a related core area where yields are greater and the risks of crop failure smaller than at the putative margin. This aspect of marginality is particularly relevant when comparing the historical and prehistoric use of land with modern farming practices. The remains of Neolithic settlements in parts of northern Europe, as in northern Norway, the Northern Isles of Scotland (Fig. 11.2), demonstrate that despite an agriculturally challenging environment, these early settlers maintained a viable existence. In Orkney, there were sufficient resources to support a population that could create substantial buildings and long-lasting monuments (Fig. 11.3). Estimates of the size of the Neolithic settlement of Orkney suggest a population of

Fig. 11.2 The Knap of Howard, Papa Westray, Orkney (see inset). These two oblong stone-built houses, preserved by wind-blown sand are the earliest North European dwellings known, dating back to 3800 BC. They were occupied by Neolithic farmers for 500 years, furnished with hearths, pits, stores, stone and possibly wooden benches. From midden remains the mode ofsubsistence was primarily pastoral, rearing cattle, sheep and pigs. There is some evidence of cereal cultivation and harvesting of fish and shellfish (see www.papawestray.co.uk). The easily cultivable soils and the additional ready access to marine resources would have made the first farmers self-sufficient in the Orkneys and their agricultural viability should not be considered as in any way marginal.

Fig. 11.2 The Knap of Howard, Papa Westray, Orkney (see inset). These two oblong stone-built houses, preserved by wind-blown sand are the earliest North European dwellings known, dating back to 3800 BC. They were occupied by Neolithic farmers for 500 years, furnished with hearths, pits, stores, stone and possibly wooden benches. From midden remains the mode ofsubsistence was primarily pastoral, rearing cattle, sheep and pigs. There is some evidence of cereal cultivation and harvesting of fish and shellfish (see www.papawestray.co.uk). The easily cultivable soils and the additional ready access to marine resources would have made the first farmers self-sufficient in the Orkneys and their agricultural viability should not be considered as in any way marginal.

Fig. 11.3 The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney. The monument was erected probably between 4500 and 4000 BP and covers an area of 8435 square metres (90790 square feet). Estimates for the labour required to excavate the massive ditch surrounding the Ring which is 3 m deep have been placed at 75 000 man-hours (Renfrew, 1979). These structures and the extent of other Neolithic remains suggest that the population of Orkney at this time may have been around 20 000 which is similar to that of today (Wickham-Jones, 2006).

Fig. 11.3 The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney. The monument was erected probably between 4500 and 4000 BP and covers an area of 8435 square metres (90790 square feet). Estimates for the labour required to excavate the massive ditch surrounding the Ring which is 3 m deep have been placed at 75 000 man-hours (Renfrew, 1979). These structures and the extent of other Neolithic remains suggest that the population of Orkney at this time may have been around 20 000 which is similar to that of today (Wickham-Jones, 2006).

possibly 20000 (Wickham-Jones, 2006), which is not unlike that of today (c. 19200).

A modern economic burden that did not exist in the past stems from the fact that farmers in peripheral regions (by comparison with other more densely settled regions) can become economically marginalized as they have to compete with areas which are more productive, as well as with regions where lower labour costs reduce world prices. Increased expectations in the quality of life, and a dependence on transport for goods and people, are additional modern problems. In these cases, communities that have become agriculturally and economically marginal due to external factors will fail unless financial support is obtained either in the form of subsidies, or by marketing of non-agricultural activities, such as shooting, fishing and other recreational pursuits that can be exploited commercially (Figs. 11.4-11.5).

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