Archaeobotany

The importance of domestic cereals as dietary staples of the Early Neolithic farmers in Europe is demonstrated by charred remains from the settlements but we are poorly informed about plant foodstuffs that are not represented among the carbonized remains. Waterlogged sites and tells with better preservation of organic materials give an idea of the unexpectedly wide spectrum of plant foods consumed on a daily basis in the Early Neolithic (Fairbairn et al. 2007; Colledge and Conolly 2010). The extraction and morphological identification of microscopic remains of plant parts (phytoliths and starch grains) is a suited method for areas with less favourable conditions of macrofossil preservation.

In our area of study, microfossil studies have been applied to ancient food residues only recently (Pető et al. 2013). Numerous studies of phytoliths and starch residue on ceramics and grinding tools from Eurasia, the Middle East and the Americas have provided highly valuable and accurate information about the plant taxa and parts prepared (Piperno et al. 2004; Hart et al. 2007; Lusteck and Thompson 2007; Liu et al. 2010; Tao et al. 2011). Studies of human dental calculus (tartar) recovered a range of starch granules of cereals and tubers (Henry and Piperno 2008; Hardy et al. 2009).

The methods are especially suitable for tracking staple plant foods that are not (or only poorly) represented in the macrobotanical record. For our research area such elusive species are for example the starchy parts of wild plants like acorns (cf. Mason and Nesbitt 2009) and tubers (cf. Wollstonecroft et al. 2008), wild grain plants (Marinova et al. 2002; Marinova 2007; Behre 2008) and domestic cereals like millet. The recognition and study of their use by micro-botanical studies will expand and may even modify traditional models of Early Neolithic (and in the case of Lepenski Vir also Mesolithic) diet.

We study saddle querns and mortars as well as and human dental calculus from four neolithic sites (Yabalkovo, Blagotin, Ecsegfalva 23 and Alsónyék).

Researchers: Alexandre Chevalier and Elena Marinova-Wolff