Archaeobotany plant remains and taking into consideration all the

Archaeobotany
is the study of ancient seeds and through the careful examination of plant
remains it can provide valuable information on the eating habits of people
based on arable but also wild edible plants as well as the availability of wild
fruits as an additional source of energy. Moreover, the study of ancient plants
provides information on the possible pharmaceutical use of certain plants and
how they have evolved to modern time. Moreover, ancient seeds can give us
information on unique cultivation techniques, and offer an insight on the
exploitation of domesticated animals for agricultural purposes. At the same
time, archaeobotany is also interested in the exploration of various
environmental patterns and the climate during different periods of the past.
Information on past agricultural practices also derive from archaeological
artefacts which are directly related to plant exploitation – these include
vessels, tools and millstones. However, this type of evidence is not always
available or it is often found out of context. In modern excavations, the
collection of plant remains is achieved through flotation, a safe and 2 precise
method for gathering as much information as possible on past plant remains. By
analysing the plant remains and taking into consideration all the other
archaeological facts, archaeologists are able to understand which species were
selected and cultivated in order to be produced massively, the methods of cultivation
used, the storage methods as well as the road to consumption. The amount of
archaeobotanical material available for study in Macedonia has increased
steadily over the past few decades as a result of controlled excavations and
careful collection techniques, yet not all excavations are published
consistently and there are still knowledge gaps that need to be filled. On the
one hand, synthetic works on Greek agricultural practices as less frequent than
one would expect, while at the same time thorough exploitation of the available
material must be accompanied by recognition of its limitations and
specificities. The aim of this dissertation is to collect as much information
as possible on agricultural practices in Macedonia from prehistory to Roman times
and examine them within their social and cultural context. Examined through a
critical lens, these particular aspects of archaeological interpretation can
complement each other and offer new insights into the understanding of the
material remains of agriculture in Macedonia diachronically. 1.2. The
importance of archaeobotanical remains Ancient seeds and parts of the plants
are easy to preserve if the conditions permit it. For instance, charred seeds
and seeds in a state of high humidity are usually preserved in excavations and
so do seeds and other plant parts that survive in humid places. Sometimes seeds
and plant parts are also preserved as fingerprints in the clay of various
vessels or they are petrified, meaning that the plant tissue is replaced by inorganic
compounds, such as calcium carbonate. Finally, seeds can also survive when they
are in close proximity to metals 3 such as copper. All these states of
preservation allow archaeologists to study seeds in detail and draw useful
conclusions in terms of their identification and agricultural or other use. The
most common condition of conservation of archaeobotanical remains in Greece is
charring.1 When seeds or plant remains come in contact with fire, either the
result of food consumption or the effect of destruction, they are charred and
they can be preserved for centuries. Archaeologists reveal archaeobotanical
remains through a time-consuming and painstaking activity known as flushing and
flotation. Ground obtained from the archaeological layers is placed in a
specially shaped barrel, inside of which there is a system of pipes that
supplies water to a certain pressure. With the continuous flow of water and the
agitation of the soil, the charred parts of the plants start to float as a
result of overflowing, they end up in the special geological sieves that are
located in the outflow of the shaped barrel inlet.2 Following the collection of
the seeds and the other plant remains from the archaeological site,
archaeobotanical remains are studied carefully under the microscope where
different species are identified with the aid of data banks. Recognition is
granted on the basis of specific morphological characteristics and marks the
beginning of the comparison of ancient seeds with modern material, a ‘reference
collections’ which should be a fundamental part of every archaeobotanical
laboratory.3 The remains of cultivation, harvesting and food consumption, are
very important archaeological finds and provide information because they reveal
a lot of information on ancient agricultural practices including the selection
of the species to be cultivated, processing the harvest to become edible as
well as the various cultivation methods. Information on agricultural practices
also come from other archaeological finds such as tools, 1 Megaloudi 2006,
Livarda 2014. 2 French 1971. 3 Megaloudi 2006. 4 millstones storage houses as
well as vases used to process, transport, store and consume the food. By
attempting to analyse the archaeological and botanological data, we are given a
good glimpse into the economy, but also the organisation of a society in a
wider context. Flotation is gradually becoming a common practice in many
excavations in Greece and this had led to the gathering of important
information on agriculture in the wider area of Macedonia from prehistory to
the Roman conquest. Archaeobotanical remains help us understand which species
were selected and cultivated as well as the agricultural methods of cultivation
and storage were used. Under this context, we can understand better current
agricultural practices. 1.3. Concise literature review In recent years,
excavations in Macedonia have revealed important information on the
agricultural practices on various Neolithic communities. Important
archaeobotanical information derives from the following sites: Nea Nikomedia,
Thermi, Stavroupoli, Dispilio, Dikili Tash and Makriyalos.4 Evidence from these
archaeological sites, attests to the cultivation of many kinds of wheat:
monocot (Triticum monococcum), dicot (Triticum dicoccum), soft (Triticum
aestivum) and durum wheat (Triticum durum), which is also cultivated to this
day. They also barley (Hordeum vulgare) and some legumes as well, most of which
are known to us from our daily diet, lentils (Lens culinaris), peas (Pisum sativa),
beans (Vicia faba) and millet to a lesser extent (Panicum miliaceum). Diet of
the Neolithic populations is enriched with local fruit and fruit transported
from remote areas: we have evidence that they were consuming blackberries
(Rubus fruticosus), grapes (Vitis), figs (Ficus carica), hazelnuts (Coryllus
avellana) 4 For a more detailed discussion and references of all the sites
mentioned in this section see Chapter 3. 5 and wild pears (Pyrus
amygdaliformis) among others. Dikili Tash has produced a large number of grape
pits from a single context, which are probably indicative of wine-making.
Besides domesticated species, archaeologists have also revealed wild species in
the Neolithic sites, mostly weeds that attach to various crops and have to be
removed from the products intended for foods (but could be used for other
purposes (i.e. feeding the animals etc). Bronze Age sites with archaeobotanical
evidence include Mesimeriani Toumba, Archontiko, Megali Toumba and Assiros.
During this period, people continue to grow the same species found in the
previous periods; however, wheat production is intensified and people start to
experiment with wine-making as well. At Megali Toumba in Thessaloniki, there is
evidence for mass wine-making as derived from charred peels, stems and bare
grape seeds. The transition from late Bronze Age to the Geometric period, can
be seen through limited remains from Mesimeriani Toumba and plant remains from
the site of Krania, which are unfortunately unpublished. At Mesimeriani Toumba charred
grains are limited while in Krania, they are found in very large quantities.
The types of cereals and grains discovered in both sites are not different from
the species which are prevalent in the Neolithic and Bronze