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Ground cereal food preparations from Greece: the prehistory and modern survival of traditional Mediterranean ‘fast foods’

  • Soultana Maria ValamotiEmail author
Original Paper

Abstract

Archaeobotanical remains of ground cereals from prehistoric northern Greece are discussed in this paper within the context of ethnographic and textual evidence for similar food preparations encountered in countries of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The archaeobotanical remains consist of ground einkorn and barley grain, stored in this form, from the sites of Mesimeriani Toumba and Archondiko respectively, located in the region of central Macedonia, northern Greece. The results of published pilot studies involving macroscopic, experimental, and scanning electron microscopic examination of these archaeological finds seem to suggest that these products correspond to preprocessed cereals, stored in this form. It is also likely that some at least of these finds were produced from boiled and subsequently ground cereal grains. This practice identified in the prehistoric material is similar to various forms of processing cereals still widely encountered in rural areas of modern Greece and other circum-Mediterranean countries. These products are known in Greece under the names of pligouri (bulgur) and trachanas. Through a combined examination of archaeobotanical, ethnographic, and textual evidence it is argued that the idea of pre-processing cereals for piecemeal consumption throughout the year is of considerable antiquity in this part of the world. Drawing information from food science research on similar, modern traditional preparations of the same geographical region, the paper highlights the advantages of pre-processing cereals for later consumption, which offers insights into likely prehistoric subsistence practices. Parboiling cereal grains or mixing grains with milk products in the summer would have made excellent use of seasonally available ingredients by converting them into nutritious and storable foodstuffs, which could then be consumed as part of daily meals with very little additional cooking effort and fuel. This ease of conversion into a filling meal may justify us considering them as ‘traditional fast foods’.

Keywords

Ground cereal food preparations Bronze Age Greece bulgur-pligouri trachanas chondros 

Notes

Acknowledgements

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to Prof. Glynis Jones who in 1992 pointed out to me the significance of studying those cereal fragments I was painstakingly sorting from my samples. I was lucky enough to subsequently encounter pure concentrations of such fragments which initiated, in 2001, the research presented here. The British School at Athens funded my research on pre-processed cereals through a Centenary Bursary awarded in 2007, while the Institute for Aegean Prehistory has financially supported the study of a large body of archaeobotanical data from northern Greece upon which this paper draws (Archondiko, Apsalos, Promachon/Topolnitsa, between 2002 and 2006). I also wish to thank experts Dr. Delwen Samuel and Prof. Mustafa Bayram who have shared their knowledge on ancient starch and modern cereal food technology, greatly helping with the interpretation of the archaeological finds presented in this paper, Andrea Brandolini and Alyssa Hidalgo for making readily available their research on einkorn food preparations under the MONICA project, Prof. E. Anyfantakis for sending me his publication on Cretan xinochondros and the archaeologists Prof. Angeliki Pilali (†), Prof. Katerina Papanthimou, Dr. Dimitris Grammenos and Stavros Kotsos, Dr. Panikos Chrysostomou and Dr. Liana Stefani who entrusted me with the study of plant remains from their excavations, which, much to my excitement, contained cereal food remains. I am grateful to my students Stela Anastasaki, Efi Tsolaki and Andria Avgousti, together with their grandmothers Chryssi Trakaki, Efthymia Tsolaki and Stavroula Eftychiou, respectively, and to my colleague, Professor Yiorgos Gounaris, and summer neighbour, Roubini Pantazi, who shared with enthousiasm the secrets of preparing trachanas, xinochondros and chachla in various parts of Greece and Cyprus. Thanks (teşekurler) to Dr. Fusun Ertuğ for generously providing and allowing the publication of her photos on bulgur preparation in the village of Kızılkaya in the province of Aksaray in Turkey. I wish to thank Mrs. R. Kapon for permission to publish figure 8d. The Editor of Kritiko Panorama, Mr. Giorgos Patroudakis, kindly provided the images for Figs. 14 and 15d. My colleagues at the Faculty of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Dr. Vassilis Fyntikoglou and Dr. Yannis Xydopoulos, are gratefully acknowledged for their help with translating the texts from Geoponika. Likewise, I am indebted to Andrew Dalby for making available his translation in English of the ancient Greek Γεωπονικά descriptions for χόνδρος and τράγος prior to the publication of his book and to Professor Andrew Tomkins for help with literature related to weaning foods and cereal gruel fermentation. Last but not least, I wish to thank Dr Dorian Fuller as well as two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

I dedicate this paper to the memory of my grandmother, Marika, who was drying her homemade trachanas (of the flour-based type) on the small veranda of her Thessaloniki flat and my mother, Vasso, who desperately resorted to trachanas to feed my skinny brother when we were little. As for me, I re-discovered the trachanas of my childhood as well as bulgur, thanks to the archaeobotanical remains I had to study. As a result, I have introduced both to the repertoire of our daily family meals.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyAristotle University of ThessalonikiThessalonikiGreece

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