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Home Deliveries in the Bronze Age

Bronze Age copper mining sites are thought to have been specialized communities of craftspeople and miners that would not have produced their own food, instead requiring food to be provided by outside sources.

While some research has examined the animal-based foods common to these communities, few studies have investigated plants.

In recent research Andreas Heiss of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and colleagues examined plant remains from the mining site of Prigglitz-Gasteil in the Eastern Alps in Austria, which was active between the 11th and 9th Century BCE.

The study identified a variety of cereal plant remains showing signs of various forms of processing, such as grinding and dehulling, but little evidence of plant remains discarded during processing, such as chaff, or of tools used to process the material.

Charred finds of the most important cultivated crops from the Late Bronze Age layers at Prigglitz-Gasteil. a) broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum), b) foxtail millet (Setaria italica), c) lentil (cf. Lens culinaris). Scale bar length: 1 mm. Images: OeAW-OeAI/S. Wiesinger (top and middle row), A. G. Heiss (bottom row). Credit Heiss et al, 2021, PLOS ONE (CC-BY 4.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

This suggests that much of the site’s cereal food was being processed and possibly cooked off-site before being delivered to the miners–and presents the idea of specific groups’ cuisine as an archaeobotanical topic worthy of further consideration, beyond simple plant remains.

These results were found to match analyses of other Bronze Age mining sites of the Eastern Alps, but it remains unclear exactly where these delivered foods were being originally processed, whether in nearby farmlands or more distant sources.

It is hoped that further study on cereal plant remains and cooking tools at Prigglitz-Gasteil and other sites will help archaeologists piece together the details of how specialized sites were provided essential supplies.

The authors add:

“Food is an artefact – just like an axe, a jug or a table. By including such culinary artefacts into “classical” archaeobotany, this study provides not only further evidence on the consumption patterns in Bronze Age mining, but also helps open the door to prehistoric cuisine a little bit further.”

The Late Bronze Age metallurgical site of Prigglitz-Gasteil (Lower Austria) during excavation Credit Peter Trebsche, University of Innsbruck

The study was published on March 24, 2021 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

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