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Grapes or raisins?

An early Bronze Age larder under the microscope
Caroline R. Cartwright*
The sudden conflagration of an Early Bronze Age room at Tell es-Sa'idiyeh in the Jordan valley resulted in the preservation of a remarkable assemblage of plant remains. Using microscopy and experiment, the author was able to detect fruits previously sun dried for preservation. Grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives, cereals, legumes and capers provided the most conclusive evidence for the drying and preservation of food. Keywords: Early Bronze Age, Jordan, Tell es-Sa'idiyeh, archaeobotany,food storage

Tell es-Sa'idiyeh, a large double mound, is prominently situated in the central part of the fertile alluvial plain of the Jordan valley, about 1.8 km east of the River Jordan. The Lower and Upper Tells span the Early Bronze Age through the Persian Period - only the Middle Bronze Age isabsent. Excavations of the tell since 1964 have revealed extensive architectural remains of different functions (Tubb etal. 1997). On the LowerTell, Late BronzeAge graves cover much of the extensive underlying Early Bronze Age domestic and industrial architectural complexes. One of these complexes revealed a small room containing a remarkable assemblage of ceramic store-jars, platters, small bowls, juglets and a jug with an internal strainer. Also present were flint blades, bone points, beads and a copper alloy axe head. The sudden conflagration of the room had preserved these artefacts in close association with a significant assemblage of charred archaeobotanical material. Standard techniques of optical microscopy were used to identify the charred plant remains, using comparisons with *modern reference material of wild and cultivated taxa. However, the condition of some of the fruits raised the question of whether they had simply been burnt in the fire or were already stored dry. To address this question a series of experimental charrings were carried out on modern specimens in a laboratory kiln in an attempt to replicate the archaeological material. Standard techniques of scanning electron microscopy were then used to examine and compare the replicated specimens with the originals. The charred archaeobotanical assemblage consisted of cereal remains, fruits, legumes and weeds. Cereals included wheat (Triticum sp.) and barley (Hordeum sp.). The pulses consisted of lentils (Lens sp.), chickpeas (Cicer sp.) and faba bean (Viciafaba). Weed seeds, associated with cultivation, were also present in some juglets. Cultivated fruits included grapes (Vitis vinifera), figs (Ficussp.), a pomegranate (Punicagranatlum)and some olive pits (Olea europaea).
'Department ofScicntific Research, British Muscum, London UK (Email: Received: February2002; accepted: March 2003


Despite having been charred. These replicated - their archaeological counterparts very closely in size. One of the small bowls contained flower buds of caper (Capparisspinosa). but the evidence i t 7 _ 10- - I. In all cases. At first. After charring a batch in the kiln for 50 minutes at 350 X degrees. This does not -'- prove incontrovertibly that the archaeological remains '< : . However. l- Figure Early BronzeAgecharredwholegrape or raisin. Further support for this interpretation was given after examination of the (-'.r preserving the fruit.) and acorns (Qlerculs sp. S '. the first such find for the region and the period. more significantly. possibly produced through sun drying which allowed fruit sugarst crystallise to the surface. thus r. The fruites surface showed many crystalline Ki features (Figure 2). whole grapes were also present. Experimental charring of fresh and dried figs was not Figure2 SEMphotomicrographof ciysallinefeatureson thegrapesurface.- '--. they were almost perfectly round with little wrinkling of the skin (Figure 1). form and surface 0 - ~ ~'• appearance. but unusually. Cartwright Wild fruits from hawthorn (Crataegutssp. J pulp.CarolineR. Small nutlets of wild pistachio (Pistacia sp.) were recovered from two of the juglets. points strongly in that8 direction. only the pips and stems would char. Charred fig seeds were found. the grapes were assumed to have been burnt while fresh. ther'e were also specimens of charred whole figs and fig ~} . the raisins appeared to 're-inflate'.. experimental charring of modern fresh grapes revealed that it was impossible to replicate the condition and appearance of the archaeological material by charring fresh grapes. The only method of successfully replicating the archaeological specimens was to char raisins. Evidence for preservation Charred grape pips were found. but. xlI archaeological specimens under the scanning electno Fig microscope.) and Christ's thorn (Ziziphus spina-christi) trees were present.xl000 346 . the grapes remained uncharred and mostly disintegrated to pulp. were raisins rather than fresh A grapes.

even up to seven months. One pottery bowl contained flower buds. the fruits can be stored for a long periods without spoiling. These provide strong evidence for dried. ~ chickpeas and faba beans were y Ii 0~~i 4. Whole lentils. sometimes tightly packed ~i together. /*. stored for a long period or even dried.Grapes or raisins?An early Bronze Age larder under the microscope as informative as it had been for the grapes.dFigure 4 i SEMphotomicrograph of thefungal hyplhaesipreadingover the surface oj he haring Figre ) . One charred pomegranate was preserved largely intact. 7~~~~7 fungal hyphae. Examination of the charred surface of one of. extensive i?. but with its calyx missing.e. as they are 7 present inunprepared form.. 'Whole grains of wheat and barley were found (Figure 3).a charredEarlvBronze Aeecaper flower bud.. Charred whole figs could be produced from fresh and dried modern samples alike. This observation is consistent with the possibility that the Early Bronze Age figs had been dried or pressed into cake-like blocks for storage. and both resembled the archaeological specimens.ifthey had beenp a r of a meal. it would have been more usual to find them in The form. Only a specimen which had been dried for several years emerged intact after charring. they both need to becooked. which had been th e l despiteblchrigpFgrese4). being mildly explosive owing to the fruit's high moisture content. Although pomegranates are usually eaten fresh or pressed for extracting the juice at the present day. uncooked specimens. processed *experimental replications which matched most closely Figure3 EarlyBronzeAge charredwheatand barleygrains to ~ ~ > the archaeological examples were carried out using dried. also present. Examination under the scanning electron microscope of the surface of the charred fig pulp fragments was more useful. store-__ cupboard items. The archaeological specimen may have been quite an old fruit. Whilst both >< cereal grains and pulses can be used whole. i. Experimental charring using fresh fruit to replicate this specimen proved problematic.xl000 despte 347 r . these flower buds under the scanning electron microscope showed distinct. This revealed crystalline features similar to those present on the raisins. as whole grains.

not only for the range of plant remains. Reference TUBB. and the fungus survived the experimental charring process. A range of food preservation processes appear to have been practised. The closest match for the archaeological caper flower buds with their surface fungus were the modern caper flower buds preserved in vinegar.G. P. olives need to be processed and stored. For use as food. usually in brine or oil.CarolineR. too. COBBING.N. they could be remnants ofpressing for olive oil or jift (pressing waste used for fuel). including drying and pickling. In all cases fungus was present to a degree. It is reasonable to assume that the olives present in this context were preserved in this way. could represent food remains. Cartwright Pickled caper flower buds are an important food seasoning whose pungent flavour is due to the presence of the fungus and the pickling process. Acknowledgements I should like to thank Ian Freestone. Interim report on the ninth season (1996) of excavations at Tell es-Sa'idiyeh. Sheridan Bowman and Jonathan Tubb for reading and commenting on this paper in draft form. 1997. DoRRuLL & F. but also for the exceptional evidence that it has produced forEarlyBronzeAge food technology.. PalestineExploration Quarterly 129: 54-77. 348 . Different pickling processes result in a varying amount of fungus being present. Only a small number of charred olives were found in the store-cupboard assemblage. where charred olive pits have been recovered in considerable quantities. Such dried and preserved foods are likely to have had a role in the daily diet and economy of Bronze Age people in the region. Elsewhere on the Lower Tell. Conclusions The wide range of foodstuffs recovered and their association with ceramic storage wares clearly suggests that this Tell es-Sa'idiyeh room had the function of a store-cupboard. J. Modern capers pickled in strongly saline brine were compared with those pickled in vinegar and capers preserved by large salt crystals without liquid. Experimental replication was used to try to specify the pickling medium presumed to have been used for the archaeological specimens. they. The archaeobotanical assemblage studied is remarkable. Alternatively.

Copyright 1982-2003 The H. . Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited. All rights reserved. Wilson Company.W.COPYRIGHT INFORMATION TITLE: Grapes or raisins? An early Bronze Age larder under the microscope SOURCE: Antiquity 77 Je 2003 WN: 0315204494012 The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with permission.