Palynological evidence of mead: a prehistoric drink dating back to the 3rd millennium b.c.

Abstract

Human coprolites from Birka, Sweden and Dürrnberg, Austria, have been found, dated and palynologically analysed as a part of interdisciplinary studies. All their pollen spectra are dominated by insect-pollinated taxa well-known as nectar producing flowers, suggesting some consumption of honey. Among those spectra, some show significantly high values of Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet) pollen, which was historically used as flavouring in mead production, and which together with other indicators for honey, suggest that mead was part of the historic and prehistoric diet both in Birka and Dürrnberg. An evaluation of the background pollen suggests for the Birka specimen that honey was imported to the site from southern Baltic areas. The use of mead based on written sources is known at least from the Roman period. Archaeological studies demonstrate mead as an old crust residue on the inside of pots and other earthenware used as important funeral gifts from at least the 27th–25th centuries b.c. in Georgia. A comparison of the pollen records of European honey/mead samples strongly suggests that Filipendula is indicative of mead.

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Acknowledgments

We are thankful to Jan Berge, Solfrid Hjelmtveit and Werner Kofler for laboratory technical work; and Sven Karlsson, Małgorzata Latałowa, Jim Dickson, Migle Stancikaite and Daniela Festi for data, discussions and comments during the preparations. Special thanks are due to Christen Christensen for his great help in tracing palynological data and documents made by the late J. Troels-Smith and Johannes Iversen in the archives at the National Museum in Copenhagen. Furthermore, we are grateful to Karl-Ernst Behre and unknown reviewers for most valuable comments and to John Birks and James Greig for improving our English.

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Correspondence to Dagfinn Moe.

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Communicated by K.-E. Behre.

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Supplementary material 1 Pollen analysis from the Kodiani burial mound (27th–25th centuries b.c.), southern Georgia; values in %, code: + = less than 0.01 % (remade after Kvavadze et al. 2007) (PDF 40 kb)

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Moe, D., Oeggl, K. Palynological evidence of mead: a prehistoric drink dating back to the 3rd millennium b.c. . Veget Hist Archaeobot 23, 515–526 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-013-0419-x

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Keywords

  • Honey
  • Human coprolites
  • Funeral pots
  • Europe
  • Bronze-Viking Age
  • Filipendula