Prehistoric cereal foods from Greece and Bulgaria: investigation of starch microstructure in experimental and archaeological charred remains
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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.
KeywordsCharred starch Experimental archaeology Bulgur Ancient food processing Scanning electron microscopy
We thank the excavators in Greece, A. Pilali† and A. Papanthimou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and Bulgaria, V. Nikolov (National Institute of Archaeology with Museum, Sofia), for taking a special interest in the retrieval of plant remains and for entrusting their study to us. We especially thank Eleni Pavlidou and Lambrini Papadopoulou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) for their invaluable help with SEM. We thank Patricia Anderson (CNRS-CEPAM, Valbonne) for kindly providing the modern einkorn material. We are grateful to Glynis Jones (University of Sheffield) and Ken Wardle (University of Birmingham) for permission to study the Assiros material. S. M. Valamoti would like to thank the Institute of Aegean Prehistory (INST.A.P.) and the British School at Athens (Centenary Bursary Awards Scheme) for funding. Delwen Samuel was supported by the Wellcome Trust. We are grateful to Peter Ellis (King’s College London), Tony Evers, Glynis Jones, Lucy Kubiak-Martens (BIAX Consult), Mark Nesbitt (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) and Michèle Wollstonecroft (University College London) for their valuable comments.
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