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Olive cultivation in the heart of the Persian Achaemenid Empire: new insights into agricultural practices and environmental changes reflected in a late Holocene pollen record from Lake Parishan, SW Iran

Abstract

Ancient Persia witnessed one of its most prosperous cultural and socio-economic periods between 550 bc and ad 651, with the successive domination of the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian Empires. During this period agricultural activities increased on the Iranian plateau, as demonstrated by a remarkable arboricultural expansion. However, available data are not very informative about the spatial organization of agricultural practices. The possible links between climate conditions and agricultural activities during this millennium of continuous imperial domination are also unclear, due to the lack of parallel human-independent palaeoclimatic proxies. This study presents a new late Holocene pollen-based vegetation record from Lake Parishan, SW Iran. This record provides invaluable information regarding anthropogenic activities before, during and after the empires and sheds light on (i) spatial patterning in agricultural activities and (ii) possible climate impacts on agro-sylvo-pastoral practices during this period. Results of this study indicate that arboriculture was the most prominent form of agricultural activity in SW Iran especially during the Achaemenid, Seleucid and Parthian periods. Contrary to the information provided by some Greco-Roman written sources, the record from Lake Parishan shows that olive cultivation was practiced during Achaemenid and Seleucid times, when olive cultivation was significant, at least in this basin located close to the capital area of the Achaemenid Empire. In addition, pollen from aquatic vegetation suggests that the period of the latter centuries of the first millennium bc was characterized by a higher lake level, which might have favoured cultural and socio-economic prosperity.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the Mamasani Archaeological Project; a Australian-British-Iranian Archaeological cooperation directed by Dan Potts, Cameron Petrie, LW and the Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research. It was also partly supported by the European ERC project (Grant No. 295375) entitled: “PERSIA: Persia and its neighbours: the Archaeology of Late Antique Imperial Power in Iran”. The contributions of M. Fader and D. Contreras were supported by the Labex OT-Med (no ANR-11-LABX-0061) and the A*MIDEX project (no ANR-11-IDEX-0001-02). The first author wishes to thank Guillaume Buchet for his availability, patience and invaluable help during the pollen identifications done in CEREGE palynology laboratory. MJ and LW thank their collaborators in retrieving the core material, in particular Hajar Askari, Alireza Askari, Alireza Sardori, Arash Lashkari and Kourosh Alamdari.

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Correspondence to Morteza Djamali.

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Communicated by A. Fairbairn.

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Djamali, M., Jones, M.D., Migliore, J. et al. Olive cultivation in the heart of the Persian Achaemenid Empire: new insights into agricultural practices and environmental changes reflected in a late Holocene pollen record from Lake Parishan, SW Iran. Veget Hist Archaeobot 25, 255–269 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-015-0545-8

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Keywords

  • Tree cultivation
  • Dodonaea
  • Socio-economic changes
  • Climate change
  • Zagros
  • Middle East