Millet, the late comer: on the tracks of Panicum miliaceum in prehistoric Greece

Abstract

Archaebotanical evidence for Panicum miliaceum is reviewed for prehistoric Greece including published and unpublished recent finds, providing a basis for exploring the context of the appearance of millet in Greece, the timing of its introduction and cultivation, and its significance in terms of contacts, movement of people, and cultural identity as expressed through culinary practice and food consumption. To this end, the archaeobotanical record is examined together with human isotopic, archaeozoological, and artefactual evidence. Millet is introduced to the northern part of Greece sometime during the end of the 3rd millennium bc and established as a widely used crop during the Late Bronze Age. Isotopic evidence suggests that millet consumption during the Late Bronze Age was not widespread but confined to certain regions, settlements, or individuals. Millet is suggested to reach Greece from the north after its spread westwards from China through Central Asia and the steppes of Eurasia. The timing of the introduction of millet and the horse in northern Greece coincide; the possibility therefore that they are both introduced through contacts with horse breeding cultures cultivating millet in the north and/or northeast is raised. Intensified contact networks during the Bronze Age, linking prehistoric northern Greece to central Europe and the Pontic Steppes, would have opened the way to the introduction of millet, overland via river valleys leading to the Danube, or via maritime routes, linking the Black Sea to the north Aegean. Alternatively, millet could have been introduced by millet-consuming populations, moving southwards from the Eurasian steppes.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The eight seeds from Mandalo correspond to a single find found in a fraction (1/8) sorted from the original sample.

  2. 2.

    The material from Skala Sotiros is currently under preparation for publication. The material from Archondiko is currently under study.

  3. 3.

    Unpublished C14 dates, Demokritos laboratory, Athens. With kind permission from Dr Ch. Koukouli-Chrysanthaki.

  4. 4.

    Until recently, it was prepared in Thessaloniki in northern Greece (I tasted it once) and sold in the premises of Hatzi pastry shops, of Albanian origin, yet, as the owner informed me early in 2012, they stopped preparing it as the traditional way of preparation is against E.U. food safety regulations.

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Acknowledgments

The author is deeply grateful to Prof. Yo-Ichiro Sato for his kind invitation, the SATO project for financial support, and Leo Aoi Hosoya for her support and enthusiasm. Dorian Fuller and Leo are acknowledged for their patience and understanding for late manuscript submission. Prof. A. Papathimou and Giorgos Deliopoulos kindly allowed the publication of the Archondiko pyravnos reconstruction. Eleni Telioridou and Chryssa Petridou helped with sorting the samples from Archondiko. Angeliki Karathanou and Eugenia Gatzogia shared information on their unpublished Ph.D. material in relation to millet from Late Bronze Age and Iron Age contexts. Elena Ilade provided information on basha drink and millet mamalinga in Rumania and Elena Marinova on boza drink in Bulgaria. Dr Chaido Koukouli Chrysanthaki kindly provided the unpublished C14 dates on the millet samples from Skala Sotiros. Tassos Bekiaris and Nikos Katsikaridis prepared Fig. 1. Alan Alram, Stelios Andreou, Ioannis Akamatis, Aurelien Creuzieux, Giedre Motuzeite, Sevi Triantafyllou and Vera Warmuth kindly provided several references. The author would like to thank two anonymous reviewers whose perceptive comments helped in the improvement of the manuscript. Any remaining mistakes are that of the author’s.

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Correspondence to Soultana Maria Valamoti.

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Valamoti, S.M. Millet, the late comer: on the tracks of Panicum miliaceum in prehistoric Greece. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 8, 51–63 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-013-0152-5

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Keywords

  • Panicum miliaceum
  • Horse domestication
  • Bronze Age Greece
  • Crop introductions