Millet, the late comer: on the tracks of Panicum miliaceum in prehistoric Greece

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Abstract

Archaebotanical evidence for Panicum miliaceum is reviewed for prehistoric Greece including published and unpublished recent finds, providing a basis for exploring the context of the appearance of millet in Greece, the timing of its introduction and cultivation, and its significance in terms of contacts, movement of people, and cultural identity as expressed through culinary practice and food consumption. To this end, the archaeobotanical record is examined together with human isotopic, archaeozoological, and artefactual evidence. Millet is introduced to the northern part of Greece sometime during the end of the 3rd millennium bc and established as a widely used crop during the Late Bronze Age. Isotopic evidence suggests that millet consumption during the Late Bronze Age was not widespread but confined to certain regions, settlements, or individuals. Millet is suggested to reach Greece from the north after its spread westwards from China through Central Asia and the steppes of Eurasia. The timing of the introduction of millet and the horse in northern Greece coincide; the possibility therefore that they are both introduced through contacts with horse breeding cultures cultivating millet in the north and/or northeast is raised. Intensified contact networks during the Bronze Age, linking prehistoric northern Greece to central Europe and the Pontic Steppes, would have opened the way to the introduction of millet, overland via river valleys leading to the Danube, or via maritime routes, linking the Black Sea to the north Aegean. Alternatively, millet could have been introduced by millet-consuming populations, moving southwards from the Eurasian steppes.