Crop dynamics in the Neolithic period in the NW Mediterranean area and the Swiss Plateau The role of opium poppy (P. somniferum/setigerum)

Jesus, Ana. Crop dynamics in the Neolithic period in the NW Mediterranean area and the Swiss Plateau The role of opium poppy (P. somniferum/setigerum). 2021, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Science.


Official URL: https://edoc.unibas.ch/90083/

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This thesis aims to identify and understand the crop dynamics in the North-Western Mediterranean and Switzerland during the Neolithic period, particularly in connection to the cultivation of the opium poppy. This study will be the first to collate and compare all the archaeobotanical data from this area, including charred and uncharred materials and dry and waterlogged sites in the same synthesis. The main questions centre around 1) how well the data was retrieved and whether the data quality allows inferences on food and agricultural practices; 2) how waterlogged material gives us a better insight into the environment and diet of Neolithic communities; and 3) how we distinguish P. setigerum from P. somniferum (that is to say wild from the domestic opium poppy) and to which of the two species the seeds found in prehistory belong to.
The results of the assessment of the archaeobotanical dataset highlighted issues and patterns in the data, considering both the different chronologies and the different types of preservation, and showed the potential of waterlogged remains found at dry sites by investigating the sediments from well contexts of the Les Bagnoles site.
The importance of waterlogged material was critical as well for the study of opium poppy seeds. After creating and applying modern and traditional geometric morphometric methods to distinguish different modern species of Papaver, it was then applied to waterlogged P. setigerum/somniferum seeds found in 10 archaeological sites.
The big-data approach of this work and the specific focus on an oil-plant, namely the opium poppy, and its domestication process contributed to a new narrative around Neolithic farming practices in Western Europe. Similarities in crop assemblages were identified over large areas, and processes of change were observed beyond the local/regional scale, showing that Neolithic farmers did not operate in isolation. Locally growing wild plants would have been integrated into the agricultural system to complement the nutrients obtained from other cultivated plants (cereals and pulses) already available to the farmers. For this to happen, networks would have been of extreme importance to share knowledge and crops. Through these networks, the cultivation of a Mediterranean plant would have possibly evolved (elsewhere) into a domestication process of a crop of great importance for human history: the opium poppy.
Advisors:Antolin, Ferran and Bouby, Laurent and Deschler-Erb, Sabine and Alonso Martinez, Natalia
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Ehemalige Einheiten Umweltwissenschaften > Archäobotanik (Antolin)
UniBasel Contributors:Antolin, Ferran and Deschler-Erb, Sabine
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:14823
Thesis status:Complete
Number of Pages:xiii, 273
Identification Number:
  • urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-bau-diss148230
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:18 Oct 2023 01:30
Deposited On:28 Oct 2022 09:51

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