Plant food economy and environment during the epipalaeolithic in southwest Anatolia : an investigation of the botanical macroremains from Öküzini and Karain B

Martinoli, Danièle C.. Plant food economy and environment during the epipalaeolithic in southwest Anatolia : an investigation of the botanical macroremains from Öküzini and Karain B. 2005, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Science.


Official URL: http://edoc.unibas.ch/diss/DissB_7223

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Located in southwest Turkey, not far from the seacoast, the natural caves of Öküzini and Karain B were inhabited by prehistoric populations during the Late Glacial and beyond. The Epipalaeolithic populations left traces of different occupation phases dated between 16.560 ±180 uncal BP (18.200-17.400 cal BC) to 12.130 ±100 uncal BP (14.400-11.800 cal BC) in Öküzini, around 15.000 uncal BP in Karain B. The topic of this research was to examine the macrobotanical remains associated with the Epipalaeolithic occupations, with the underlying aims to acquire insights about the economy of these communities and their use of the environmental resources. A first research paper addresses the issue of plant macroremain identification, in particular the identification of „thick shelled“ plant remains. Morphological comparison with the range of potential species and present geographical distribution made it possible to refine the determination to a double species: Amygdalus orientalis or A. graeca. These plants could grow in the surroundings of the sites on rocky slopes or sandy hills and had to be collected during late summer. All wild Amygdalus seeds are toxic, so that their use as food can be disputed. However, through examination of the detoxification possibilities, nutritional properties and ethnographic analogies for the use of wild almonds, we came to the conclusion that the seeds probably played a notable role in the diet of the Epipalaeolithic population of southwest Anatolia. A comparison with further published prehistoric “nutshell” finds from the Near East supports a long and widely distributed tradition of wild almond use. The analyses of the whole plant macroremain assemblages (excluding wood charcoals) identified at least 18 taxa and “categories” of remains, mainly carbonised. The importance and the role of the plants – particularly in the diet and their bearing on the seasonality of occupation of the sites – have been evaluated with quantitative and qualitative data. Nuts (principally Amygdalus, wild almond), fruits (principally Pyrus, wild pear), bulbs, roots or tubers (underground storage organs) seem to have occupied a particularly important place in these communities during all Epipalaeolithic phases, at the expense of small-seeded plants. The attested plants would have provided carbohydrates, lipids and micronutrients complementing well the meat diet. The cost of acquisition of the major plant resources was estimated: nuts and underground storage organs were generally considered as high ranked resources, providing a resource easy to gather and to process for a high calorific return. The almonds had a higher cost of acquisition. Their richness in fats and their availability at the onset of the winter season however could justify the additional work required for their detoxification. Judging from the seasonality indices of the plants and ungulate fauna at Öküzini, the cave could have been inhabited periodically in all seasons, but particularly in spring and autumn. A third paper presented the use of firewood and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction using anthracological and other environmental data. The diversity of fuel wood used was moderate and at both sites Acer (maple), Amygdalus (wild almond) and Fraxinus (ash) were the most common and important taxa. Secondary taxa were composed of Maloideae, Pyrus (wild pear), Prunus (wild plum), Quercus (cadufoliate oak), and Rhamnus/Phillyrea (buckthorn/mock privet). No chronological changes were observed. The major difference between both caves was the presence of hygrophilous and mesophillous taxa in Öküzini, whereas Coniferous wood was more common in Karain B, leading to the interpretation of an opportunistic exploitation of the surroundings of each site. Despite the poverty of the Late Glacial vegetation, there was no indication of use of alternative fuel material. These Epipalaeolithic populations seem to have responded to shortages rather through mobility than intensification. The anthracological results have been integrated to present-day knowledge of the environment of southwest Anatolia in an attempt to reconstruct the local vegetation.
Among the different models of optimal foraging, the diet breadth model predicts that the
resource a forager chooses from an available set of resources depends on their efficiency rank
and abundance in the environment. Knowing from former investigations what plant resources
were collected by the Epipalaeolithic populations from Öküzini and Karain B, we used this
model to estimate the richness of the various classes of plant resources in the environment of the
sites. An exploitation of high ranked plant resources, the nuts and the roots, bulbs or tubers,
instead of small seeds, probably reflected their good availability in the environment. On the
other hand, although the pattern of fuel use did not show any indices of wood scarcity, the
reconstruction of the vegetation resulted in an environment not particularly rich in plant
resources. The density of population being low, we suppose that the Epipalaeolithic populations
living in this region adapted to their natural conditions in moving regularly their camps.
Advisors:Jacomet, Stefanie
Committee Members:Colledge, Sue
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Integrative Biologie > Integrative Prähistorische und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie (IPNA)
UniBasel Contributors:Jacomet, Stefanie
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:7223
Thesis status:Complete
Number of Pages:115
Identification Number:
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:22 Jan 2018 15:50
Deposited On:13 Feb 2009 15:13

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