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Archaeobotanical Studies from Hierakonpolis: Evidence for Food Processing During the Predynastic Period in Egypt

  • Elshafaey A. E. Attia
  • Elena Marinova
  • Ahmed G. Fahmy
  • Masahiro Baba
Chapter

Abstract

This paper discusses recently obtained archaeobotanical evidence from locality HK11C of Predynastic Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt, and in particular, information on plant foods and their processing. The excavations at this locality have revealed industrial food production activities dating to the Naqada II period (c. 3800–3300 BC). From one structure (Operation C) dedicated to the processing of meat and fish, plant remains were extracted through flotation of sediment from burned debris obtained from hearths. A sample from another structure, reused for refuse disposal, was also studied. The finds indicate discarded waste of cereal crop processing, fuel residues (wood and vegetative parts of herbaceous vegetation), herbivore dung and other plant remains deriving from crops (flax, melon) or representatives of the wetland and desert vegetation. The most frequent plant remains recovered from this food processing zone are crop cleaning by-products of emmer and barley, the principal cereal crops of the period (c. 75% of the total frequency of identifiable plant remains). In much smaller frequencies are remains of weeds, found as seeds and/or vegetative parts, which represent the wild growing vegetation from ruderal places, river banks or the desert. Further archaeobotanical evidence from the site HK11C comes from an installation (Operation B) where large ceramic vats were found containing charred residues. Close examination of the charred residue revealed remnants of emmer processed for food. Whole and fragmented grains were distinguishable under low magnification (10–40x). Although no longer recognisable without magnification, the presence of ground grain was demonstrated by numerous cereal pericarp fragments and aleuron cell layers visible under higher magnification (100–400x). Starch grains with perforations observed under Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) suggest that fermentation had taken place. This processing, with subsequent heating, must have resulted in a more or less homogenous mass suggesting that this matter was wet when charred. It may represent dough for bread making or more probably, considering the archeological context, for initial stages of beer production. Other samples found inside the vats and their surroundings also indicate processed emmer probably for beer production.

Keywords

Archaeobotany Ancient brewing Emmer Plant macroremains Predynastic Upper Egypt 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This archaeobotanical study was possible due to the kind scientific and financial support provided by unit “Quaternary Environments and Humans” of the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences (Brussels). The excavations at HK11C were undertaken under the auspices of the Hierakonpolis Expedition with funds provided by the Japan Society for Promotion of Science (Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) 16K03167). The authors would like also to thank Andreas Heiss for valuable comments and discussion on earlier versions of the manuscript. We are also grateful to the editor, Catherine D´Andrea, the reviewers Michelle Wollstonecroft, Lara Carretero Gonzalez and an anonymous reviewer who provided useful comments and suggestions to improve the manuscript. The research on the material presented here represents a continuation of the research begun by Ahmed G. Fahmy focussing on the investigation of the food ingredients and processing procedures (including beer production) at the site of Hierakonpolis, aiming to define the parameters involved in food production through systematic archaeobotanical analyses of the industrial facilities, ceramic vats, and burials (comparing e.g. human dental calculus, stomach contents, intestinal contents, and coprolites).

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elshafaey A. E. Attia
    • 1
  • Elena Marinova
    • 3
    • 2
  • Ahmed G. Fahmy
    • 1
  • Masahiro Baba
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Botany, Faculty of ScienceHelwan UniversityCairoEgypt
  2. 2.Center for Archaeological Sciences, KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  3. 3.Royal Belgian Institute of Natural SciencesBrusselsBelgium
  4. 4.Institute for Advanced Study, Waseda UniversityTokyoJapan

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