New blogs

Leherensuge was replaced in October 2010 by two new blogs: For what they were... we are and For what we are... they will be. Check them out.

Friday, June 11, 2010

North Iberian Neolithic seeds

at Arqueocienciências, a Portuguese archaeology blog.

It refers to a poster (quasi-paper, in English) presented to the last conference of the IWGP by Inés López, Pablo Arias and Roberto Ontañón detailing the carpological findings in two Neolithic caves of Northern Spain, Los Gitanos (Cantabria, near the Basque border) and Aranga (Asturias, near the Cantabrian border).

Synthesis of findings:

Aranga cave (Asturias):

The Mesolithic period (stratigraphic units 4 and 3) is dated to between c. 7500-7000 cal BCE and includes mainly hazelnut (Corylus avellana) remnants but also a few instances of barley (Hordeum vulgare) and another undescribed cereal, as well and Sorbus sp. (rowan).

The Late Neolithic period (unit D) is dated c. 3350-2600 cal BCE and contained mostly barley, as well as some instances of hazelnut and one acorn (Quercus sp.)

In addition to these, it is reported in the text the presence of wild apples. Apple seeds have also been recovered in a Basque cave (Aizpea, Zapata 2002).

Los Gitanos cave (Cantabria):

Neolithic (units A4, A3 and A2) is dated to c. 5000-2600 cal BCE and included only a few instances of hazelnut and acorn, plus a single instance of Brassica sp. (genus including mustard and cabbage)

Chalcolithic (unit A1) is dated more precisely to c. 3600-3100 BCE and is still dominated by hazelnuts and acorns but already showing some instances of cereal (wheat, oat and an undetermined cereal), as well as one instance of Rumex sp. (sorrel or dock)

The authors are unsure on whether the Brassica and Rumex instances were collected for food or arrived as part of some weeding activity.

The consumption of acorn bread was reported for Northern Iberia as very common in Roman times.

It is noticeable that not a single instance of pulse was found.


Language Continuity said...

Is there any suggestion that the cereals found in the Mesolithic context may be the result of early (pre-Neolithic) plant domestication in the area?

Maju said...

No, sorry, Jesus. You can read the poster-paper just as I did and I don't think anything of the like is proposed at all.

What you say is suggestive but would need of some other supporting evidence. In general the tendency is to dismiss contradictory findings as wild plants (and maybe is the correct approach).

Cereals are (or rather used to be) wild grasses after all and some like oat (Avena) even today behave as weeds some times. It certainly seems to mean that barley grew in wild form in Asturias before the Neolithic and I could guess that the local hunter-gatherers may have collected it either for food or for preparation of beverages.

There are much older instances of pre-Neolithic use of cereals (in Mozambique some 60 Ka ago), which I have imagined to be used as food but also for alcoholic preparation maybe.

I think that gradually we are gaining greater understanding of how Paleolithic peoples used plants, and which plants, but only to a limited extent because it's a difficult matter.

Maju said...

105 Ka ago, not 60 Ka. Oops!