Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 17, Supplement 1, pp 181–189 | Cite as

Changing foodways: watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) consumption in Roman and Islamic Quseir al-Qadim, Egypt

  • Alison Cox
  • Marijke van der VeenEmail author
Original Article


The identification of size differences in watermelon seeds recovered at Roman and Islamic period Quseir al-Qadim, Egypt, initiated research into the signature of seed eating. Distinct breakage patterns were found on the testa of watermelon seeds eaten by seven volunteers. Comparison of these patterns with those of the archaeological material established that some of the watermelon seeds at Quseir al-Qadim were eaten during the Islamic, but not the Roman, period. This, plus a size difference in the seeds (larger in the Islamic period), has raised questions about which subspecies of Citrullus lanatus was/were present at this site, and exactly when human consumption of the sweet fruit flesh and the seeds was first established in Egypt. Ancient DNA research may be needed to resolve these questions.


Watermelon Citrullus lanatus Foodways Seed eating Quseir al-Qadim 



We are very grateful to Ahmed Fahmy for his help in collecting and supplying the five samples from Cairo, the photographs of volunteers eating the seeds and for information regarding current practice. We would also like to thank the volunteers for facilitating this research, and Jacob Morales for taking the seed photographs. The research on the archaeobotanical remains from Quseir is funded by a grant from the Natural Environment Research Council (NER/A/S/2003/00336) to the second author.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Archaeology and Ancient HistoryUniversity of LeicesterLeicesterUK

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