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Archaeobotanical Studies from Hierakonpolis: Evidence for Food Processing During the Predynastic Period in Egypt.

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Abstract. This paper discusses recently obtained archaeobotanical evidence from locality HK11C of Predynastic Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt, and in particular, information on plant foods and their processing. The excavations at this locality have revealed industrial food production activities dating to the Naqada II period (c. 3800–3300 BC). From one structure (Operation C) dedicated to the processing of meat and fish, plant remains were extracted through flotation of sediment from burned debris obtained from hearths. A sample from another structure, reused for refuse disposal, was also studied. The finds indicate discarded waste of cereal crop processing, fuel residues (wood and vegetative parts of herbaceous vegetation), herbivore dung and other plant remains deriving from crops (flax, melon) or representatives of the wetland and desert vegetation. The most frequent plant remains recovered from this food processing zone are crop cleaning by-products of emmer and barley, the principal cereal crops of the period (c. 75% of the total frequency of identifiable plant remains). In much smaller frequencies are remains of weeds, found as seeds and/or vegetative parts, which represent the wild growing vegetation from ruderal places, river banks or the desert. Further archaeobotanical evidence from the site HK11C comes from an installation (Operation B) where large ceramic vats were found containing charred residues. Close examination of the charred residue revealed remnants of emmer processed for food. Whole and fragmented grains were distinguishable under low magnification (10–40x). Although no longer recognisable without magnification, the presence of ground grain was demonstrated by numerous cereal pericarp fragments and aleuron cell layers visible under higher magnification (100–400x). Starch grains with perforations observed under Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) suggest that fermentation had taken place. This processing, with subsequent heating, must have resulted in a more or less homogenous mass suggesting that this matter was wet when charred. It may represent dough for bread making or more probably, considering the archeological context, for initial stages of beer production. Other samples found inside the vats and their surroundings also indicate processed emmer probably for beer production. Keywords: Archaeobotany � Ancient brewing � Emmer � Plant macroremains Predynastic Upper Egypt
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Archaeobotanical Studies from Hierakonpolis:
Evidence for Food Processing During
the Predynastic Period in Egypt
Elshafaey A. E. Attia
1
, Elena Marinova
2,3(&)
, Ahmed G. Fahmy
1
,
and Masahiro Baba
4
1
Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Helwan University, Cairo, Egypt
s.elshafaey@gmail.com
2
Center for Archaeological Sciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
elena_marinova@gmx.de
3
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium
4
Institute for Advanced Study, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan
Abstract. This paper discusses recently obtained archaeobotanical evidence
from locality HK11C of Predynastic Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt, and in par-
ticular, information on plant foods and their processing. The excavations at this
locality have revealed industrial food production activities dating to the
Naqada II period (c. 38003300 BC). From one structure (Operation C) dedi-
cated to the processing of meat and sh, plant remains were extracted through
otation of sediment from burned debris obtained from hearths. A sample from
another structure, reused for refuse disposal, was also studied. The nds indicate
discarded waste of cereal crop processing, fuel residues (wood and vegetative
parts of herbaceous vegetation), herbivore dung and other plant remains deriving
from crops (ax, melon) or representatives of the wetland and desert vegetation.
The most frequent plant remains recovered from this food processing zone are
crop cleaning by-products of emmer and barley, the principal cereal crops of the
period (c. 75% of the total frequency of identiable plant remains). In much
smaller frequencies are remains of weeds, found as seeds and/or vegetative
parts, which represent the wild growing vegetation from ruderal places, river
banks or the desert. Further archaeobotanical evidence from the site HK11C
comes from an installation (Operation B) where large ceramic vats were found
containing charred residues. Close examination of the charred residue revealed
remnants of emmer processed for food. Whole and fragmented grains were
distinguishable under low magnication (1040x). Although no longer recog-
nisable without magnication, the presence of ground grain was demonstrated
by numerous cereal pericarp fragments and aleuron cell layers visible under
higher magnication (100400x). Starch grains with perforations observed
under Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) suggest that fermentation had taken
place. This processing, with subsequent heating, must have resulted in a more or
less homogenous mass suggesting that this matter was wet when charred. It may
represent dough for bread making or more probably, considering the
©Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018
A. M. Mercuri et al. (Eds.): Plants and People in the African Past,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89839-1_5
archeological context, for initial stages of beer production. Other samples found
inside the vats and their surroundings also indicate processed emmer probably
for beer production.
Keywords: Archaeobotany Ancient brewing Emmer Plant macroremains
Predynastic Upper Egypt
Introduction
Archaeobotanical studies at Hierakonpolis, a major town in Predynastic Upper Egypt
(Fig. 1), have provided crucial evidence for reconstructing the plant economy and
resources used during the time of emergence of Egyptian civilization (c. 38003200
BC). The site includes diverse localities related to activities of daily life (settlement
areas and industrial quarters where, for example, beer brewing and pottery production
took place) as well as several cemeteries and a ceremonial centre (Friedman 2011).
Activities that took place at the site left numerous plant remains relating to food
production, processing, consumption and the dumping of refuse. The excellent
preservation conditions in the arid environment at the site have allowed archaeob-
otanical research at Hierakonpolis to obtain detailed information on the past environ-
ment, agricultural practices, crop processing, human and animal diets, and the use of
plants in architecture and ritual contexts (Fadl et al. 2013; Fahmy 2005,2008; Fahmy
et al. 2008a,b,2011; Fahmy and Fadl 2009; Marinova et al. 2013).
In this paper we discuss recently obtained archaeobotanical evidence from locality
HK11C at Hierakonpolis and in particular, new information on plant food resources
and their processing. In addition to the identication of plant remains, a study of the
microstructure of charred residues found in what are interpreted as brewing vats was
conducted in order to observe alterations in tissues and cells of processed (cooked
or/and fermented) emmer grains.
Materials and Methods
Excavations at locality HK11C, situated on the south bank of the Wadi Abu Sufan
(Fig. 1), have revealed several installations dedicated to industrial food production,
activities dating to the Naqada II period, c. 38003300 BC (Baba and Friedman 2016).
In Operation C (Square C3-4), a roughly square mudbrick structure with one
rounded wall (Fig. 2a) was found. In this structure meat and sh were prepared and
cooked. The interior of the structure was lled with accumulated layers of black burnt
debris containing charcoal, ash, stones and potsherds overlying and surrounding
numerous hearths. Two sediment samples (each with volume of 2 l) were taken from
hearths (nr. 4 and 6) discovered on the oor of the structure and were processed by dry
sieving with mesh sizes of 1 and 0.3 mm. Another sample of the same volume was
obtained from the ash-lled debris within a larger mudbrick structure in Square C10-
11, located 30 m to the south of Operation C. This material probably represents dis-
carded waste from the industrial activities in the area and was deposited in the structure
Archaeobotanical Studies from Hierakonpolis 77
after it had fallen out of its original use. The plant remains were also extracted by dry
sieving.
One industrial installation, a beer and pottery production complex dating to the
early Naqada II period, was found in the lower level of Operation B (Fig. 2b). There,
ve large ceramic vats presumed to be for making beer were uncovered in situ
(Fig. 3a). They were found within a structure composed of mud. From partly charred
Fig. 1. Location of the study site (HK11C) within the site of Hierakonpolis
78 E. A. E. Attia et al.
Fig. 2. Plans of the studied features: aOperation C (Square C3-4) bOperation B.
Archaeobotanical Studies from Hierakonpolis 79
Fig. 3. a Location of Vats 1 and 2; band ccharred residue in Vat 2 found at Operation B.
80 E. A. E. Attia et al.
residues found inside each of the vats (Fig. 3b, c) and adjacent deposits, six samples
were taken for macro-botanical analysis. The charred residue in one of the vats (Vat
nr.4) was absolutely dated to 37623537 BC (raw date: 4875 ±40 BP) (Baba and
Friedman 2016: 193).
All samples were analysed under low magnication stereoscope (up to 50x) while
ne structures, such as the epidermal layers of plant tissues, were examined under
higher magnication (up to 500x) using reected light microscope. Fine microstruc-
tures of the residues found in vats were also documented using Scanning Electron
Microscope (SEM).
Results
Well preserved plant macroremains, both desiccated and charred, were retrieved from
all samples.
Dry-Sieved Samples from Squares C3-4 and C10-11
The three samples retrieved from the two mudbrick structures at locality HK11C
revealed good preservation of both desiccated and charred plant macroremains
(Table 1). A total of 972 of plant macroremains were identied including: 598 frag-
ments of cereal chaff (rachis fragments of barley and glume bases of emmer); 52 cereal
grains (barley, emmer or Cerealia indet.); 58 seeds of potential weeds and ruderal
vegetation seeds; 18 remains of species of wetland vegetation; 3 genera of xerophytes
(represented by 35 vegetative parts); 145 varia items (not identiable below family
level) seeds and fragments of vegetative parts, as well as 63 indeterminate specimens.
Cereal crops. Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), an annual crop cultivated in
autumn/winter, is one of the main cereals of ancient Egypt. It is present in the
archaeological record from Neolithic times onward, and was favoured because it can
resist drought conditions and is a suitable crop for arid regions. A total of 12 grains and
275 rachis fragments of the studied botanical assemblage at HK11C was attributed to
H. vulgare. The majority of the identiable fragments are chaff either charred (n = 33)
or desiccated (n = 242) (Table 1). The highest number of grains was separated from
the sample obtained from the structure in Square C10-11 (11 charred grains).
Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum Schrank) is an annual winter crop, which is no
longer cultivated in Egypt today. Isolated grains number eight in total, and they are
concentrated in the sample from the debris in Square C10-11. There is only one charred
grain from the structure in Square C3-4. On the other hand, charred chaff from emmer
wheat dominates (n = 282 glume bases in total) the assemblage from this area, and may
represent the remains of dung cakes used as fuel for the hearths. In contrast, only 18
glume bases of emmer occur in the sample from Structure C10-11.
Other crops. One unripe desiccated capsule of ax (Linum usitatissimum L.) was
isolated from the sample from Square C10-11 and a fragment of a charred capsule from
Square C4. Flax is an annual herb that is cultivated in the winter. At present, it is
Archaeobotanical Studies from Hierakonpolis 81
Table 1. Results of the archaeobotanical analysis of three samples from the mudbrick structures
in Square C3-4 and Square C10-11.
Site HK 11C
Sample number 1 2 1
Feature C3-4 C3-4 C10-11
Sample volume (l) 2 2 2
Total nr. plant remains 76 526 370
Type of record Preservation Total nr. %
Crops
Cereal grains 52 5.3
Hordeum vulgare undiff. Seed/fruit Charred 1 10 11 1.1
Hordeum vulgare undiff. Seed/fruit Desiccated 1 1 0.1
Triticum dicoccum Seed/fruit Charred 1 7 8 0.8
Cerealia indet. Seed/fruit Charred 3 29 32 3.3
Cereal chaff 598 61.5
Hordeum vulgare undiff. Rachis fragment Charred 3 101 138 242 24.9
Hordeum vulgare undiff. Rachis fragment Desiccated 33 33 3.4
Triticum dicoccum Glume base Charred 2 280 18 300 30.9
Triticum dicoccum Glume base Desiccated 23 23 2.4
Others 5 0.5
Cucumis melo/sativus Seed/fruit Desiccated 3 3 0.3
Linum usitatissimum Capsule Charred 1 1 2 0.2
Potential weeds 58 6.0
Avena sp. Seed/fruit Desiccated 1 1 0.1
Lolium cf. temulentum Seed/fruit Charred 2 10 12 1.2
Phalaris cf. minor Seed/fruit Charred 1 3 38 42 4.3
Rumex cf. dentatus Seed/fruit Desiccated 1 1 0.1
Solanum sp. Seed/fruit Desiccated 1 1 0.1
Vicia sp. Seed/fruit Charred 1 1 0.1
Desert plants 35 3.6
Acacia Wood Charred 12 12 1.2
Pulicaria Inorescence Charred 1 1 0.1
Tamarix Branch Charred 1 1 0.1
Tamarix Wood Charred 10 11 21 2.2
Riparian/Floodplain Vegetation 18 1.9
Ceruana pratensis Seed/fruit Charred 1 2 3 0.3
Cyperaceae Seed/fruit Charred 10 10 1.0
Cyperaceae Seed/fruit Desiccated 1 1 0.1
Cyperaceae Culm fragment Charred 2 2 0.2
Desmostachya bipinnata Culm fragment Charred 1 1 0.1
Portulaca sp. Seed/fruit Charred 1 1 0.1
Varia 145 14.9
Fabaceae Seed/fruit Charred 1 1 0.1
Lamiaceae Seed/fruit Desiccated 1 1 0.1
Poaceae Seed/fruit Charred 1 1 0.1
Poaceae Culm fragment Charred 20 20 24 64 6.6
Poaceae Culm fragment Desiccated 78 78 8.0
Indeterminated 61 6.3
Seed/fruit Charred 2 9 11 1.1
Vegetative part Charred 8 13 21 2.2
Vegetative part Desiccated 25 4 29 3.0
82 E. A. E. Attia et al.
mainly cultivated in the Nile Delta and at Abu-Tig in the Assiut governorate (c. 375 km
south of Cairo). It requires moderate climatic conditions for the production of a good
yield.
Three desiccated seeds of melon (Cucumis melo/sativus L.) were found in Square
C3-4. According to current knowledge (see Zohary et al. 2012) most probably the seeds
represent Cucumis melo, a prostrate annual herb that grows in sandy loamy soils. It was
a valued vegetable since Predynastic times and is attested also in the stomach contents
of Predynastic humans at Hierakonpolis (Fahmy 2008).
Potential weeds and ruderal vegetation. This ecological group includes 58
seeds (55 charred and 3 desiccated) representing six species. They represent 6.2% of
the recorded plant remains in the studied samples. It is observed that the weed ora
of HK11C is characteristic of winter farming as both Phalaris cf. minor and Lolium
cf. temulentum represent the highest percentages of weed taxa (4.3% and 1.2%
respectively). Other eld weeds were also recorded, for example: Portulaca sp.,
Vicia sp., Rumex cf. dentatus, Solanum sp., which could have originated in ruderal
habitats and Rumex cf. dentatus which also may have grown along the margins of
wetlands.
Reeds/wetland vegetation. The water-loving species identied in the samples are:
Desmostachya bipinnata Stapf, Ceruana pratensis Forssk., and several specimens of
the family Cyperaceae that cannot be identied to the genus level. These remains were
concentrated mainly in Structure C10-11. The presence of such an assemblage of water
loving taxa suggests the occurrence of damp soils along natural water channels that
would have run through cultivated elds especially during the winter. C. pratensis is an
annual herb which grows on the muddy banks of the Nile, major irrigation canals in
cultivated elds and the inundated ground in their vicinity. Today, this taxon is an
endangered species in Egypt (Boulos 2002). Its use in wattle and daub construction or
incorporated in wooden architecture, such as fences, is well documented at Hier-
akonpolis (Fahmy et al. 2008a,b).
Xerophytes. The plant macroremains of three taxa were grouped under xerophytes
and are indicative of desert habitats in the surrounding area. The remains were
attributed to: Pulicaria sp. (represented by only one charred seed), Acacia sp. and
Tamarix sp. (represented by a vegetative part).
Wood charcoals. This group includes only Acacia sp. and Tamarix sp. The studied
charcoal fragments from Square C3-4 included Acacia sp. (12 fragments) and Tamarix
sp. (10 fragments) while in the sample from Square C10-11 contained only Tamarix
sp. (11 fragments). Due to the low taxonomic diversity only the half charcoals from
each sample was studied.
Dung remains. Desiccated sheep/goat dung pellets were recovered in two samples
from Square C3-4. They were examined for seeds and other plant remains that might
have passed through the alimentary canal tracts without morphological deterioration.
The analysis revealed the desiccated residues of processed cereal crops which had been
used as animal fodder.
Archaeobotanical Studies from Hierakonpolis 83
Charred Residue Samples from the Vats in Operation B
The residues found adhering to the interior side and base of three vats were examined
(Fig. 3). The sample from Vat 2 was the best preserved and richest in number of
identiable plant remains. It is composed of a layer of porous charred matter up to 3 cm
thick. The thickness of residues available for analysis in the other vats did not exceed
1 cm. Close examination under the microscope showed that some parts of the residue
from Vat 2 are not completely charred. They are brownish in colour, indicating limited
exposure to heat. The exposed surface of the residue appears rich in plant materials,
especially emmer grains and chaff (Fig. 4a).
The inner surface of the residue, which adhered to the vat surface, shows a more
homogenous porous structure, with few recognisable plant macrofossils (Fig. 4b). The
charring on this side of the residue seems to be more intensive, as very little brownish-
semi-charred plant matter was observed. This indicates greater exposure to heat from
contact with the lower sides of the vat, since the re was placed around the base (see
Baba and Friedman 2016: 188). Analysis of the crust in cross section (Fig. 4c) indi-
cates that the upper layer is rich in recognisable cereal remains (mainly chaff), while the
lower part, which was adhering to the vat surface, is homogenized porous matter.
The samples from inside Vat 4 resemble those from Vat 2, but it seems that there
was greater exposure to heat, as certain areas are strongly charred. On the surface some
fragmented emmer grains are recognisable (Fig. 4d). There is a high frequency of
partly charred and uncharred organic matter and plant remains visible in the sample
(Fig. 4e, f). From one of the residue samples it was possible to isolate a single, slightly
damaged grain of emmer (Fig. 5a). Most probably the damage is due to the fact that the
grain was wet and softened prior to charring.
A sample was recovered from debris found around Vat 4, which was not adhered to
the vat walls. It has the appearance of dried bread and has contents similar to the
residue sample, but is dominated by desiccated plant remains instead of charred
materials. The desiccated fragments represent most probably the same type of matter as
the charred remains, but the grains inside have undergone degradation, possibly due to
insect activity, to judge from the remains of insects found within this sample. Material
that seems to be similar was found in a roughly contemporary brewery complex at Tel
el Farkha where it was interpreted as the discarded material removed from the brewed
liquid by sieving (Kubiak-Martens and Langer 2008). The uncharred matter from the
Vat 4 sample was very brittle and apart from the emmer chaff it was possible, using a
brush, to extract from it several seeds of possible weed plants such as Lolium sp.,
Digitaria sp. and other specimens not further identiable. Especially interesting is the
nd of desiccated rachis of possibly free threshing wheat (cf. Triticum durum Desf.,
Fig. 5b). Free threshing wheat is rather rare in the Predynastic period of Egypt, but
contemporary nds are known for Hierakonpolis (see Fahmy et al. 2011). Nevertheless,
it is possible that this rachis fragment is an artefact produced by the fragmentation of
emmer chaff heated in lower temperature.
The samples from Vat 5 show nearly identical consistency and composition to
those from Vat 2, however the thickness of the residue is much less (c. 1 cm). The
upper part of the residue contains higher amounts of coarser plant remains (mainly
84 E. A. E. Attia et al.
Fig. 4. Microphotographs of macro-botanical nds from the charred residues found in the vats
of Operation B: aSurface of the charred residue, from inside Vat 2. Note the oval emmer
spikelet; bUnexposed surface of the charred residue, attached to the wall of Vat 2; cView of the
same residue in cross section; dCharred residue from Vat 4. Note an embedded grain of emmer
within the dotted ellipse; ePartly charred emmer spikelet from Vat 4; fPartly charred plant
remains in Vat 4, with doted ellipse are indicated broken in cross section cereal grains.
Fig. 5. a Charred emmer grain from the residue in Vat 4; bRachis fragment, possibly free
threshing wheat or artefact of the preservation of emmer chaff, from Vat 5 (scales 1 mm).
Archaeobotanical Studies from Hierakonpolis 85
emmer), which are not charred completely. The lower part (originally adhering to the
vat wall) is more homogenous and charred more strongly similar to those from Vat 4
(Fig. 4f). The sample from the surroundings of Vat 5 contains a mixture of chaff
remains, but also clumps of clay that are rich in organic matter. There are also a few
charred remains as well as very small sh bones and scales in the residue. This
composition indicates the rather mixed character of the sample, and is probably the
result of the disposal of refuse.
By close examination of the residues from all studied vats under reected light
microscope it was possible to observe epidermal tissues of chaff and pericarp fragments
and layers of aleurone cells of cereal grains. Thus the porous matter within the residue
consists also of cereals, but more strongly fragmented than those on the upper surface.
The structures were documented with SEM (Fig. 6). Observed under higher magni-
cation (100400x), the burnt residues were found to contain various tissue remnants
(Fig. 6a), mostly identiable as originating from wheat (see Heiss et al. 2017). Con-
sidering the identied macro-botanical remains, this is a clear indication that emmer
grains were crushed and ground together with its chaff. It is interesting to point out the
presence of starch grains with perforations (Fig. 6b), suggesting, according to Samuel
(2000), that they were subjected to fermentation. The presence of ground grains is also
demonstrated by numerous cereal pericarp fragments and aleurone cell layers (Fig. 6c)
visible under higher magnication. Closer examination of the fragmented grains and
homogenous porous matter (Fig. 6d) revealed alternations (e.g. matrix of fragmented
charred starchy endosperm, without any distinguishing features) similar to those
observed in boiled grains by Valamoti et al. (2008). Among them also fragments of
chaff epidermis and tissue (Fig. 6e) occur. This shows that the portions of the residue
which appear under low magnication as porous structures are composed of crushed
emmer grains and chaff.
Fig. 6. SEM images of the microstructure of fragments of charred residues from the vats of
Operation B: aoverview of the residue fragment; bsingle starch grains showing predorations
embeded in the charred residue; ctransverse cell of grain pericarp; dmatrix of fragmented
charred starchy endosperm, without any distinguishing features; echaff fragment with epidermal
surface visible.
86 E. A. E. Attia et al.
Discussion
The mud-brick structure of Square C3-4, within which food of animal origin was
processed (Baba et al. 2017), yielded mainly by-products of cleaning emmer and
barley, the principal cereal crops of the site (Fahmy et al. 2011), as well as weeds and
some representatives of the wild growing vegetation. These remains probably reect
the use of crop cleaning by-products in the fuel (dung and wood) for heating during
meat preparation. These ndings are supplemented by the sample from the structure in
Square C10-11, where burnt material, no doubt deriving from other industrial activities
at the site, were dumped. The archaeobotanical analysis of those remains also provided
information on weed and other wild growing ora. The eld weed assemblages suggest
a mono-seasonal crop regime restricted to winter. Other habitats reconstructed include
marshes with saline soils surrounded by desert, probably used as pasture land for the
domestic stock. Locally available Acacia sp. and Tamarix sp. were the major sources of
charcoal and wood.
The archaeobotanical evidence from the partly charred residue adhering to the
inside of large vats found in the food production installation at Operation B indicates
that emmer grains were the main component of the residues and at least parts exam-
ined. The processing and subsequent heating must have resulted in a more or less
homogenous matter (Fig. 6d) that was wet and nely ground (see Heiss 2014) when
charred. It may represent either dough for bread making or, most probably, the mash
for starting beer production (see Samuel 2000). Beer production is also suggested by
several emmer grains showing features typical for malting (see Stika 1996, Valamoti
2017) found during the initial study of material from another installation (HK24B) at
Hierakonpolis by A.G. Fahmy. The high frequencies of emmer wheat remains in
archaeological sites from all over Egypt demonstrate that this crop played a very
important role in the agricultural economy from Predynastic to Ptolemaic (30430 BC)
times (see Fahmy et al. 2011).
Conclusions
The botanical assemblages in the studied samples correspond well with previous
ndings on the Predynastic economy and environment at HK11C (Fahmy et al. 2011).
The palaeoethnobotanical results from this study show that the economy of Predynastic
Hierakonpolis was based on the cultivation of cereals: emmer wheat and barley. Both
crops were cultivated in winter in local elds along the Nile, as shown by the weed
assemblages. The fuel used in the studied cooking installation contained wood of
Acacia and Tamarix, but also crop threshing residues and dung. Archaeobotanical
analysis of the dung remains indicate that crop cleaning refuse and barley grains were
one of the main components of the animal fodder. The archaeobotanical assemblages
reect not only cultivated plants, but also those coming from the wetlands and the
desert.
Archaeobotanical nds from vat contents provide the oldest direct evidence of the
cereal ingredients and procedures for beer production in ancient Egypt, since radio-
carbon testing of a sample of the residue from inside Vat 4 resulted in a calibrated date
Archaeobotanical Studies from Hierakonpolis 87
of 37623537 BC (uncal. C
14
4875 ±40 BP) (Baba and Friedman 2016). The residues
are composed in part of entire unthreshed emmer grains, some preserved as such and
others strongly fragmented and only recognisable through the fragments of cereal bran
and chaff fragments. Observations on the microstructure of the emmer grains from the
residue indicate changes in the structure of the starch grains pointing to traces of
fermentation and provide strong evidence together with the archaeological context for
interpreting the charred residues as the remains of beer brewing.
Acknowledgements. This archaeobotanical study was possible due to the kind scientic and
nancial support provided by unit Quaternary Environments and Humansof the Royal Belgian
Institute for Natural Sciences (Brussels). The excavations at HK11C were undertaken under the
auspices of the Hierakonpolis Expedition with funds provided by the Japan Society for Pro-
motion of Science (Grant-in-Aid for Scientic Research (C) 16K03167). The authors would like
also to thank Andreas Heiss for valuable comments and discussion on earlier versions of the
manuscript. We are also grateful to the editor, Catherine D´Andrea, the reviewers Michelle
Wollstonecroft, Lara Carretero Gonzalez and an anonymous reviewer who provided useful
comments and suggestions to improve the manuscript. The research on the material presented
here represents a continuation of the research begun by Ahmed G. Fahmy focussing on the
investigation of the food ingredients and processing procedures (including beer production) at the
site of Hierakonpolis, aiming to dene the parameters involved in food production through
systematic archaeobotanical analyses of the industrial facilities, ceramic vats, and burials
(comparing e.g. human dental calculus, stomach contents, intestinal contents, and coprolites).
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Archaeobotanical Studies from Hierakonpolis 89
Anna Maria Mercuri
A. Catherine D'Andrea
Rita Fornaciari
Alexa Höhn Editors
Plants and
People in the
African Past
Progress in African Archaeobotany
Article
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The scarce publications on fishing in ancient Egypt cited in archaeological and Egyptological research contain little reference to cast nets being used as a fish catching method for catching fish, and the information that is available is contradictory. There are also no systematic studies on fishing and, so far, no comprehensive typology adapted to the particularities of the Egyptian fishing tackle developed. We start from the hypothesis that cast net was one of the fishing methods in ancient Egypt, at least from the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. We try to confirm that its origin can be traced back to the Epipalaeolithic Period, as it has been suggested, as well as suggest the first classification of lead net weights from archaeological sites in Egypt and, in addition, that it is possible to draw on Egyptian iconography as a source to prove the use of this fishing gear. This article considers archaeological records, as well as documentary, literary, iconographic and ethnographic sources to accomplish the objectives proposed. We conclude that the data allow us to confirm the existence of fishing with cast nets from the proposed date along with additional evidence of its possible use from the Epipalaeolithic Period, identifying several fishing scenes with cast nets in the iconography, showing the typology, the gear, and the fishing activity.
Article
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This paper revisits and old question “Beer or wine?” as regards the potential alcoholic drinks consumed by prehistoric societies in southeastern Europe. Archaeobotanical remains of sprouted cereal grains as well as cereal fragments from the Bronze Age sites of Archondiko and Argissa on mainland Greece, presented here for the first time, provide strong indications for the making of something similar to beer in late 3rd millennium bc Greece, opening up a series of new questions about the recipes followed in this process and their origins. Beyond the recipes themselves, the paper highlights a range of available options as regards alcoholic drinks in Bronze Age Greece, beer and wine, offering thus a more detailed approach to preferences and possible identities reflected in the choice of alcoholic drink among prehistoric societies inhabiting the southernmost tip of the Balkan Peninsula, the Aegean and mainland Greece.
Article
Full-text available
The site of Parkhaus Opéra is located on the north-eastern shore of Lake Zürich (Switzerland) and was documented during a rescue excavation in 2010 and 2011 by the Office for Urbanism, City of Zürich. Two charred bread-like objects were found in late Neolithic Layer 13 of the pile-dwelling, and are investigated using a novel set of analyses for cereal-based foodstuffs. Tissue remains of barley and wheat were identified, as well as a schizocarp of celery (cf. Apium graveolens), providing the first evidence for the use of bread condiments in the Neolithic. Cereal particle sizes were recorded and used to draw conclusions regarding milling and sieving of the raw material. Gas bubbles in the charred objects were measured in order to evaluate possible leavening of the dough. The outcomes of this research significantly advance the understanding of the production traits of cereal-based food during the Neolithic. The analytical techniques proposed by this study open up new possibilities for systematic and consistent investigations of cereal-based archaeological foodstuffs.
Article
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Bioarchaeological studies of animal dung from arid environments provide valuable information on various aspects of life in ancient societies relating to land use and environmental change, and from the Neolithic onwards to the animal husbandry and the use of animals as markers of status and wealth. In this study we present the archaeobotanical analysis of animal gut contents from burials in the elite Predynastic cemetery HK6 at Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt. The study involved analysis of plant macrofossils, phytoliths and pollen applied on samples from two elephants, a hartebeest, an aurochs and five domestic cattle. The study showed that most probably the elephants were given fodder containing emmer spikelets (dehusking by-products) before the animals death. Most of the other animals were also foddered with cereal chaff, but were mainly allowed to browse and graze in the settlement area and near the Nile. The diet of some contained only wild growing plants. The variety of plant remains identified in the stomach contents indicates that the food plants for the animals were obtained from three possible habitats near the site: the river banks, the low desert and the cultivated/anthropogenically modified areas.
Article
Full-text available
In order to investigate ancient cereal cooking practices, the microstructure of preserved starch in charred ground cereal remains recovered from prehistoric sites in Greece and Bulgaria has been analysed. A comparative modern set of cooked and subsequently charred cereals was produced. By scanning electron microscopy it is demonstrated that, under some conditions, distinctive cooked starch structure survives the charring process. Charring alone can occasionally produce morphological changes which typically occur during cooking. Despite this caveat, starch microstructure features which are indicative of heating in liquid, and which are visible in the experimental material, have been detected in the ancient charred cereal food remains. Although much more experimental investigation is required, it has been established that evidence for past food preparation survives in ancient charred starch microstructure.
Article
Tubers, leaves and mericarps are underrepresented plant remains in most archaeological sites either due to their tissue softness or small size and fragility. The more resilient and hard cereal remains, drupes, seeds and grains are frequent at most archaeological sites. The remarkable preservation status of organic material retrieved from archaeological sites in arid regions across the world, such as Egypt, increases the possibility of observing such missing botanical material. The present study discusses results of analysing the contents of a basket recovered within an intact grave (Burial 333) of the Predynastic period (3600 B.C.) in cemetery HK 43 at Hierakonpolis in Upper Egypt. The basket was found beside the elbows of the flexed burial of a woman, 40–50 years of age. The cemetery at HK 43 served the non-elite segment of society, as indicated by the overall paucity of grave goods. Children and older women appear to have been most favoured with gifts and among these better endowed graves, Burial 333 stands out for the variety of materials, suggesting that she was a woman of some standing within her community. Botanical contents of the basket include remains of Cyperus (sedge tubers), Anethum graveoloens L. (dill mericarps) and drupes of Balanites aegyptiaca (L.) Delile (balanites) as well as narrow slivers of coniferous wood and other types of plant remains. In addition, objects found in and around the basket include a cosmetic palette, five awls of polished bone, an ivory comb, pendants and amulets, which may be part of a cosmetic kit. In terms of palaeoethnobotanical investigations, this basket is another source of plant macro remains to be added to previous sources recovered from the same cemetery, such as the contents of pottery vessels, matting and viscera contents. This evidence shows that the Predynastic inhabitants adopted a subsistence strategy based on the cultivation of cereals, emmer wheat as the likely staple, and the gathering of wild fruits and tubers as well as herding of livestock. The botanical assemblage identified from the basket suggests the exploitation of wet swamp habitats to collect wild tubers of Cyperus esculentus L., C. rotundus/laevigatus and culms of Juncus sp. On the other hand, the nearby desert habitat was a source of edible fruits like Balanites aegyptiaca, Cordia sinensis Lam. and Ziziphus spina-christi (L.) Desf. The outcome of this study is evidence for the existence of a mixed strategy of subsistence involving herding, gathering and farming in Predynastic Egypt.