The Use of Wild Plants in the Palaeolithic and Neolithic of Northwestern Africa: Preliminary Results from the PALEOPLANT Project

  • Yolanda Carrión MarcoEmail author
  • Jacob Morales
  • Marta Portillo
  • Guillem Pérez-Jordà
  • Leonor Peña-Chocarro
  • Lydia Zapata


This contribution presents preliminary results from PALEOPLANT, a European Research Council (ERC) multidisciplinary research project that focuses on the analyses of plant remains from Palaeolithic and Neolithic sites in North Africa. The project aims are to: (1) characterize wild plant exploitation among human communities; (2) refine current knowledge on past landscapes; and (3) improve archaeological methodology and fieldwork when studying plants. We discuss preliminary results from charred plant macroremains (wood, seeds and fruits) and plant microfossils (phytoliths and calcitic ash pseudomorphs), as well as dung spherulites recorded in several northwestern African sites spanning the Late Pleistocene to the Early-Middle Holocene (c. 33 to 2 ka BC). Charcoal assemblages indicate the presence of mixed oak/juniper woodlands during the Late Pleistocene while conifers become the dominant element of the vegetation during the transition from Late Glacial to Early Holocene. In these contexts, some of the main species of thermo- and meso-Mediterranean Holocene landscapes (Olea europaea, Pistacia, etc.) were already present but their spread occurred during the Middle Holocene, concurrently with Neolithic occupations. The combination of wood charcoal, other plant macroremains (seeds and fruits) and plant microfossils, including both plant and dung indicators, provide new insights not only into the presence of a wide range of plant resources (wild pulses, Ziziphus lotus, Pinus halepensis, Quercus sp., Stipa tenacissima and Chamaerops humilis) but also on the variability of their potential uses (including fuel, food, fiber, bedding, fodder). Archaeobotanical results suggest continuity in the use of wild plants during the Neolithic. In addition, wood charcoal assemblages reflect significant changes that occurred in plant composition including the expansion of thermo-Mediterranean species.


Northwestern Africa Palaeolithic Neolithic Charcoal Seeds Calcitic microfossils Phytoliths Spherulites Food plants Basketry 



Research has been carried out within the framework of the PALEOPLANT project (ERC 2013 CoG 614960). Y. Carrión and J. Morales are beneficiaries of a Ramón y Cajal research fellowship funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Innovation of Spain. M. Portillo research is currently funded by the EU Horizon 2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie action MICROARCHAEODUNG (H2020-MSCA-IF-2015-702529). G. Pérez Jordà work has been carried out within the postdoctoral contract FPDI-2013-16034 and IJCI-2015-25082 funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad. We would like to express our special gratitude to J. Bouzouggar and Y. Bokbot (Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine, Morocco), S. Merzoug and F. Kherbouche (Centre National de Recherches Prehistoriques, Anthropologiques et Historiques, Algeria), L. Belhouchet and N. Aouadi, (Institut National du Patrimoine, Tunisia), N. Barton (University of Oxford, UK), L. Humphrey (The Natural History Museum, UK), J. Lindstädter (Deutsches Archälogisches Institut, Germany), S. Mulazzani (University of Aix-Marseille, France), A. Polo-Díaz (UPV/EHU, Spain), J.C. Vera Rodríguez (University of Huelva, Spain) and R.M. Martínez Sánchez (University of Granada, Spain) for long-term, amicable cooperative work and for providing access to the site data.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yolanda Carrión Marco
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jacob Morales
    • 2
    • 3
  • Marta Portillo
    • 2
    • 4
  • Guillem Pérez-Jordà
    • 5
  • Leonor Peña-Chocarro
    • 5
  • Lydia Zapata
    • 2
  1. 1.PREMEDOC, Prehistoria Del Mediterráneo Occidental. Departamento de Prehistoria, Arqueología e Historia AntiguaUniversitat de ValènciaValenciaSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Geografía, Prehistoria Y ArqueologíaUniversidad Del País Vasco, UPV-EHUVitoria-GasteizSpain
  3. 3.GI Tarha, Departamento de Ciencias HistóricasUniversidad de Las Palmas de Gran CanariaLas PalmasSpain
  4. 4.Department of ArchaeologyUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  5. 5.GI Arqueobiología, Instituto de Historia (CCHS). Consejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasMadridSpain

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