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Archaeobotany of capers ( Capparis ) (Capparaceae)

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Abstract

The origins of capers, their use and cultivation are discussed. Capers seeds and charcoal are often recovered from archaeological sites of the Mediterranean and West Asia. These are referred to as C. Spinosa L. This is mostly a group of cultivars restricted to localities surrounding the Western Mediterranean and some places in the Eastern Mediterranean. Identification of the findings is discussed in terms of seed morphology, present distribution and ancient uses of C. aegyptia Lam., C. sicula Veill., C. cartilaginea Decne, C. orientalis Veill., C. decidua (Forssk.) Edgew. and other species. Citations of Capparis in early Rabbinic, Mesopotamian and Greco-Roman texts are presented.
© Springer-Verlag 2002
Veget Hist Archaeobot (2002) 11:295–313
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... An archaeobotanical database was created to unify and standardize the gathered literature data. Charcoal analysis, carpology and other plant remains of interest, such as textiles, were included (Alfaro, 1984;Ayala, 1987Ayala, , 1989Buxó, 1997;Buxó and Piqué, 2008;Carrión-Marco 2004, 2005Clapham et al., 1999;Celma Martínez, 2015;unpublished;Gale, 1999;García Martínez, 2009;Grau, 1990;Hopf, 1991;Martínez et al., 1999;Montes, 2011Montes, , 2014Peña-Chocarro, 1995Pérez-Jordá, 2014;Precioso, 1995Precioso, , 2003aPrecioso, , b, 2004Precioso Arévalo et al., 1999;Precioso Arévalo and Rivera Núñez, 2004;Rivera, 1987a, b;Rivera et al., 1988Rivera et al., , 2002Rodríguez-Ariza, 1992, b, 2001, 2011Rovira-Buendía, 2007;Schoch and Schweingruber, 1982;Stika, 1986Stika, , 1988Stika, , 1992Stika, , 1998Stika, , 2000Stika, , 2001unpublished;Stika and Jurich, 1998). ...
... The lack of information, literature references or work still in progress for the sites Castillejo de Gádor, Punta de Gavilanes, Loma de Balunca, Terrera del Reloj and El Argar makes them unfit for an indepth interpretation, whereas Rincon de Almendricos must be excluded due to the difficulties in interpreting the taxa presence and numbers of finds in the published results (Ayala, 1987(Ayala, , 1989Rivera et al., 1988Rivera et al., , 2002. Moreover, there are two sites, Ifre (Mazarrón) and Zapata (Lorca), where Olea carpological remains are present (Hopf, 1991), but the number is not available, so they will be included as valuable supporting information (Table 1). ...
... The best represented taxon regarding the number of finds and sites 3 525 199 1 0 0 Carrión -Marco, 2004-Marco, , 2005Hopf, 1991;Schoch and Schweingruber, 1982;Stika, 1988Stika, , 1992Stika, , 1998Stika, , 2000Stika, , 2001 Gatas 132 23 1696 1 1 1* Celma Martínez, 2015: 540-541;Clapham et al., 1999;Gale, 1999;Stika, unpublished 3 Castillejo de Gádor 0 Rincón de Almendricos 0 0 1 0 0 0 Ayala, 1987Ayala, , 1989Grau, 1990;Rivera et al., 1988Rivera et al., , 2002 Barranco is Olea (see Table 1). The sites are grouped in the above-mentioned way using absence/presence of charcoal and fruit finds (see Table 2, 2.3). ...
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The consumption of olives, figs, and grapes in El Argar territory (2200–1550 CAL BC) has been suggested through carpological analysis. Currently, there are 22 settlements with archaeobotanical studies of seeds and fruits; most of them present parallel anthracological analyses. There is a lack of wood finds of the mentioned species in some of the analysed sites, with only fruits present, while at other sites wood finds are reported but fruit remains are missing. If these absences are meaningful, one could aim to define production sites and exchange networks within this unique socio-political context of El Argar area. This paper aims to compare different series of archaeobotanical data to define fruit management and circulation in El Argar during the Bronze Age. The information provided by charcoal analysis circumscribes each settlement in a specific environment, which is directly related to the orography of the landscape. The results show a clear zoning of settlements participating in the circulation of edible fruits between the coast and the high plateau. The interpretation of exchange, redistribution and probable trade of fruit products between different El Argar sites adds new information about Argaric society.
... Capers are the pickled flower buds of Capparis, a small shrub native to the Mediterranean and the Near East, used Rivera et al. 2002). The fruits of Capparis can be prepared and eaten in the same way. ...
... (C. sicula, C. orientalis) can also be used (Rivera et al. 2002(Rivera et al. , 2003. ...
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This paper presents a review of records of pollen and botanical macroremains of a selection of food plants from late and post-medieval cesspits (12th century-19th century ad) in the Netherlands and northern Belgium. The presented data demonstrate that several food plants remain largely invisible in the macrobotanical records. These are all plants from which the flowers or flower buds (Borago officinalis, Capparis, Carthamus tinctorius, Crocus sativus, Syzygium aromaticum) or leaves (Anthriscus cerefolium, Spinacia oleracea) are eaten, or that are typical components of honey (Cistus). As a result, little is known about the import or local production and consumption of these food plants in these times. This review now shows that past use of some of these plants is reflected in the pollen assemblages of (post-) medieval cesspits. For the first time, a large archaeobotanical dataset is presented, including pollen, providing information on the past use of these plants between the 12th and 19th century ad in the Netherlands and Belgium.
... Caper, meanwhile, grows wild in ruderal and disturbed areas throughout Southwest Asia and is common on the Erbil Plain today. Archaeobotanical finds of caper in northern Mesopotamia and the Levant date back to the Mesolithic, and are regularly found in archaeobotanical assemblages in subsequent periods (Rivera et al., 2002). Purslane is also a ubiquitous edible weedy plant in the region and widely consumed across the region today in salads. ...
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Agropastoral subsistence practices can provide important insight into economic organization and surplus production, both integral factors in the emergence and development of socioeconomic inequality during the Chalcolithic Age of Southwest Asia. In this study, we examine evidence for plant husbandry, fuel use, and feasting in northern Mesopotamia during the Ubaid and Late Chalcolithic 1–2 periods (ca. 5200–3800 BCE) at the site of Surezha. Archaeobotanical remains from tell sites like Surezha are the product of multiple, interrelated depositional pathways, which, when carefully disentangled, speak to a variety of human behaviors, including fuel selection preferences, plant and animal management strategies, and commensality. The combined analysis of carbonized and mineralized carpological remains, wood charcoal, and dung spherulites recovered from Surezha document a mixed agropastoral subsistence strategy relying on animal husbandry and the cultivation of barley, hulled wheats, flax, and various pulses. Wild/weedy taxa and crop-processing debris made up a particularly large proportion of the preserved plant remains at the site, and, when combined with abundant evidence from dung spherulites and overall lack of wood charcoal, provide evidence for substantial reliance on dung fuel burning during the Chalcolithic. The dataset also includes one of the largest and most unique assemblages of mineralized seeds identified to date in Mesopotamia, which may represent the remnants of LC 1–2 feasting activities.
... It is also widely diffused in cultivated form, especially in Southern Europe (Italy, Spain and Greece), in North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt) and in the Middle East (Syria and Turkey), in traditional and specialized systems for commercial production of pickled, in salt or vinegar, immature flower buds (the caper of commerce), unripe fruits (caper berries) and tender shoots, or as an ornament. The capers for commerce and the other related products have been used since ancient times [6] for food or as a condiment [7,8], as well as in ethnopharmacology, medicine and cosmetics, due to a number of bioactive compounds with beneficial properties and effects [9][10][11][12][13][14][15]. However, most of the caper products available in the international market rely largely on the wild plants, as Nevertheless, despite its natural diffusion and cultivation, Capparis spinosa L., as a Wild Harvested Plant (WHP), is currently considered at risk of genetic erosion, mainly due to overgrazing and overharvesting for domestic uses and for trade. ...
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As a perennial xerophytic shrub, characterized by plesiomorphic features, the caper (Capparis spinosa L.) is naturally spread throughout the Mediterranean basin and occupies an important ecological role, as well as an economic one, in traditional and specialized systems for commercial production. This species, in spite of its wide diffusion, is currently considered at risk of genetic erosion, mainly due to overgrazing and overharvesting for domestic uses and for trade. This situation is made more serious because of the lack of efficient propagation techniques, determining the caper as a “difficult-to-propagate species”. In this review, we report the main available sexual and vegetative propagation techniques with the aim of assessing whether, and to what extent, this criticality is still true for caper as a horticultural crop. In terms of seed propagation, germination rates have generally been considered quite low or unsatisfactory, and are also affected by hybridization phenomena that are likely to occur among both the wild and cultivated forms. The seeds show a physiological dormancy that can be lowered by adopting hormonal treatments, but in situ germination remains a critical phase. Vegetative propagation appears quite effective, mostly as related to in vitro techniques that allow caper cultivation that is no longer affected by propagation for an economic dissemination of the species in more intensive orchards. The research needs for Caper spinosa L. as a horticultural crop, especially in the field of genetic improvement and breeding, are also underlined.
... The common caper was used in ancient Greece, in Andalusia in the 10-15 th centuries, and in medieval Morocco during the Almohad period. Its ancient use and planting in the Mediterranean and in Western Asia as food and/or as a condiment is well documented (Bermejo & Sánchez, 1998;Chevallier, 2001;Rivera et al., 2002;Van Staëvel et al., 2016). This plant is a potential source of valuable nutrients, and is included in many culinary and/or medical recipes (Özcan, 1999;Saadaoui et al., 2011;Chedraoui et al., 2017). ...
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The caper plant (Capparis spinosa L., Capparaceae) from Morocco is described differently, and shows a very variable morphology. In this work, two provenances of caper plant, spontaneous and cultivated, from the North-Central Morocco, are characterized on the basis of morphological and productive criteria. Quantitative and qualitative parameters reveal significant differences between the two origins. The cultivated provenance corresponds to C. spinosa subsp. spinosa, whereas the spontaneous origin is mainly composed of this subspecies and secondarily C. orientalis. Small capers are abundant in the two origins, but their aesthetic quality is more observed in the cultivated one. Caper berries of spontaneous provenance display a longer peduncle and gynophore and those of cultivated provenance are more numerous and thicker. The spontaneous caper genotypes produce capers and caper berries over a longer period and generate less income for the local population.
... Caper propagation is commonly performed by seeds and rooted cuttings. In both cases, the propagation rate is quite low, mostly due to the high recalcitrance of the seed germination (very hard seed coat) and the poor rooting efficiency (< 50%) (Rivera et al. 2002). In recent years, in vitro culture and micropropagation appeared to play an important role for easily producing uniform and stable plant material. ...
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The high quality of the various biotypes present in the natural or cultivated state is one of the main features for caper production. Up to now, however, no selection activity has been carried out in order to identify the most suitable accessions for providing better quality products. In this paper, we report the first results of a selection of caper genotypes characterised by significant qualitative traits. A micropropagation protocol was evaluated in order to improve and allow the multiplication of the most promising Capparis spinosa L. subsp. spinosa genotypes, selected in Salina (Aeolian Islands), Sicily (Italy), in collaboration with the most important local growers.
... The introduction of Capparis in the palynological record from c. 1500 C.E. possibly provides evidence for European contact. Capparis (commonly known as a caper) places its origins surrounding the Mediterranean in Europe, this taxon is not native to the Americas and would only have arrived with the Spanish conquistadors [121]. In addition, the reduction of select arboreal taxa, e.g., Bursera simaruba, and Protium, could reflect deforestation for building materials and the creation of pastures; however, this is also within the range of natural variability [122,123]. ...
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The Central American Dry Corridor (CADC) is the most densely populated area of the Central American Isthmus and is subject to the greatest variability in precipitation between seasons. The vegetation of this region is composed of Dry Tropical Forests (DTF), which are suggested to be highly susceptible to variations in climate and anthropogenic development. This study examines the vulnerability of past DTF surrounding the Asese peninsula, Nicaragua to climatic and anthropogenic disturbances over the past c. 1200 years. Past vegetation, climate, burning, and animal abundance were reconstructed using proxy analysis of fossil pollen, diatoms, macroscopic charcoal, and Sporormiella. Results from this research suggest that DTF have been highly resilient to past climatic and anthropogenic perturbations. Changes in DTF structure and composition appear to be linked to the abundance and intensity of fire. Pre-Columbian anthropogenic impacts on DTF are not detected in the record; however, DTF taxa decline slightly after European contact (1522 C.E.). Overall the DTF for the Nicaraguan region of the CADC were found to be highly resilient to both climatic and anthropogenic disturbances, suggesting that this region will continue to be resilient in the face of future population expansion and climatic variation.
... One of the very important Genus "Capparis", form family Capparaceae, is especially popular due to its several wild species of medicinal plants distributed across Indian Sub-continent, Mediterranean region, Atlantic Coasts to Black Sea Lands (Morocco) and Latin America [9]. Of the 250 species of genus Capparis, C. spinosa and C. decidua are wildly distributed in deserts/dry lands of Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, North Africa, South West Asia, Australia and South Europe up to an elevation of 1100 m [10] and are valued for their folk medicinal uses [11,12]. The therapeutic effects and folk medicinal uses of Capparis species can be attributed to the occurrence of bioactive compounds such as phenolics, flavonoids and vitamins [13]. ...
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The stem bark, shoot, fruit, flower and root from Capparis spinosa and Capparis decidua, harvested in April and September (corresponding to low and high rainfall season, respectively), were investigated for variations in the contents of total phenols, flavonoids and individual phenolics. Aqueous methanol (80%) soluble extracts from different parts of the selected species, were evaluated colorimetrically for total phenolic contents (TPC), total flavonoid contents (TFC) and inhibition of linoleic acid peroxidation. Relatively, a higher extract yield (5.57–42.43%), TPC (157.3–348.6 GAE mg/100 g), TFC (229.2–584.9 CE mg/100 g) for both the species were recorded for September samples. Among the parts tested of both the species, fruits offered higher content of total phenolics (235.1–455.3 GAE mg/100 g) whereas flowers contained greater amount of flavonoids (96.7–269.9 CE mg/100 g). A notably variable content of phenolic compounds (0.24–94.22 mg/100 g) such as gallic acid, p-coumaric acid, caffeic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid and sinapic acid were detected by RP-HPLC in different parts of the selected species; however, sinapic acid was not detected in the flowers of both the species. It can be concluded from the findings of the present study that season has significant effect on the phenolics profiling of Capparis plants and thus collection of different parts of the selected species in an appropriate season can be beneficial towards maximizing their functional food and nutraceutical benefits.
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