Ethnobotanical researches reveals large amount of data which archaeologists and archaeobotanists can include into their projects. Until recently most of the interpretations in archaeology and in archaeobotany were based on analogies from ethnographical studies and to what we actually find in excavations. Ethnobotany covers all aspects of plant use, from gathering to cultivating of plants, and from harvesting wild or cultivated plants to how to process them. For example, if we can not find the remains of the leafy plants or soft fruit for food; green herbs might used as medicine or spice; or a wooden spoon or bowl; a piece of cloth, a bag or a basket we often ignored them in our interpretations. Usually archaeologists tend to limit themselves, their imaginations, scary of accusations of not being scientific, and this leads us/them to focus on non-perishable evidences, that we can find. Ethnobotanical studies of living cultures provides a larger framework which we might explain some patterns of repetition, or possible reasons behind the lack of some traits. However, the culture of any given society is very complicated and has a human factor of different choices, perceptions, preferences, as well as the social differentiation in every society, the limitations of reaching to some resources, or possibilities related to wealth, age and sex creates so many factors that has to be taken into account.

Gathered wild plants for food, by F. Ertug.

Gathering versus cultivating

Archaeologically, faunal and botanical remains are primary sources of evidence for investigating patterns of subsistence. It is important, in this respect, however, not to assume that these assemblages are direct reflections of all consumed foods or of local food production (Gerritsen 2000). Usually we do have very limited data on the actual range and amount of wild plants gathered either for food or for other purposes. Some evidence provided by microwear analysis on the teeth of Neanderthal and both archaic and anatomically modern human specimens, reveals that the latter two hominids possessed teeth that show wear typical of what one would expect from a diet consisting proportionally of more vegetable matter than meat, while the Neanderthals showed more carnivorous diet (Curtis 2001:51; Lalueza et al. 1996). This data somehow indicator of the amount taken from different sources, but not the range or depth of gathering from wild.

  • The dependency to wild plants as food has changed throughout history for every society, however in general it shows a great tendency from probably a higher dependency/relience to lesser. Some aboriginal peoples, like the peoples of Swaziland (SW coast of Africa), gather and consume about 220 species of wild plants, and wild plants provide 39% share within their diet (Wickens 2001:151; Ogle and Olivetti 1985). Some others in higher latitudes consumed probably much less plant food. Soffer suggests that berries, etc. could be opportunistically consumed but, in general, the higher the latitude, and so the colder the climate, the less plant food would be consumed (Soffer 1985: 251-53).
  • Foraging wild plants is often considered a sign of poverty or a response to crop failure, providing supplementary foods during famines. Actually, during the Lee’s 15th monthlong fieldwork in the NW Kalahari among !Kung San, there were a three year long extreme droughts ever recorded in southern Africa. The crops of Botswana’s predominantly agricultural Bantu population had failed for the third year, 250.000 of their cattle died, and 180.000 people were kept alive by the UN famine relief program. And yet, throughout that period, the 466 !Kung San whom Lee was observing consumed on avarage 2,140 calories and 93 gr of protein per person per day by working/ walking, foraging and hunting 12-19 hours a week, and the vegetable food comprised from 60 to 80 percent of the total !Kung diet by weight, derived from total 85 plant species (Reader 1988:144; Lee 1965).
  • While the ethnobotanical studies indicating the contuniation of a rich tradition of plant collection in many parts of the world among rural societies (Ertug 1998, 2000a; Friedl 2006; Leonti et al 2006; Pieroni 1999; Heinrich 2006), archaeologists usually tends to forget or ignore this continuity after the onset of the domestication process.

Gathering and harvesting from 'wild'

Plant gathering not only for food and shelter, but for medicine, fuel, fodder, producing cloths and strings, nets, bags, dyes and other daily materials were ongoing/ never ending activity in all archaeological sites.

When we accept this assumption we may try to search and apply various methods, such as starch studies, pollen, phytolith, trace analysis, and caprolite/feaces analysis when available to find out more evidence.

Gathering sweet chestnut and wild plants, mushrooms for food, Kastamonu, by F. Ertug.
  • Tools for harvesting wild plants are usually quite simple, it can be a digging stick for tuberous plants (Turner 2005), an adze like tool or a knife for leaves (Ertug 2000a). If the grass or leafy hay is going to be collected then a sickle or sythe, or a reaper might needed. The tool may also change according to the environment and the type of plant the gatherer searching, if nuts or mushrooms has to be collected in a forest, a simple wooden tool with a hook at end to check the undercover might be very useful (see picture on the left). All gatherers may need an apron, a basket or a bag, according to what they intended to collect.
  • We know that people are /were able to use most of available plants in their environments. Even in the desert areas people can find numerous plants to feed themselves. Nabhan’s (1985) studies in Sonoran desert, indicates that 425 edible wild species available, which demonstrates how bountiful a desert can be. In the Mediterranean area the highest concentration of edibles recorded up to 180 (Ertug 2004a). However, edibles not only used to feed humans, but up to 25% of them can be used as food-medicine (Pieroni 1999; Ertug 2004b). In archaeological sites some medicinal plants also found through caprolite studies. The coprolites from a Swiss site provided several indications of medicinal treatments, for example, mistletoe was used as medicinal plant (Jacomet and Brombacher 2005 cited Maier 2001: 149).
  • The use of ethnographic analogy to suggest that women were the gatherers, weavers and basket makers according to their relatively modern roles can be misleading (e.g., Gero and Conkey 1991), however many cross-cultural studies indicate that these roles have deep historical roots.
  • Gathering with an inherited knowledge provides food and other necessities in a 100 percent certainty in most areas, while hunting expeditions have only a one-in-four chance of success (Reader 1990; Lee 1965), but usually hunter-gatherers also use trade with their settled neighbors. In most cases there are strong symbiotic relationships developed between the settled and nomadic groups.
  • Although necessary tools for gathering is quite simple and limited in number, gatherers need a woven bag or an apron and also may need nets to trap fish, birds, etc., which in archaeology usually have no evidence. When we are reconstructing past lives we probably need to take into account the time spent to gather and process the plants and to spin the fiber, and weave those bags or nets. Ethnographic evidences indicates that the manufacture of string from fibrious plants or bast is time consuming, and might taken half of the time of women who responsible to produce them (Hardy 2007: 16-17).
  • In North America, for thousands of years people have been capturing the sweet liquid sap by tapping into the trunk in the springtime, then concentrating it into a syrup, from trees such as (Acer spp.), birch (Betula spp.), and larch (Larix spp.) (Munson 1989). Inner bark harvesting implements usually include a strong, sharp tool for cutting and prying off the bark, and a flatter, sharp-edged implement for scraping off the edible tissue from the wood or inside of the bark (Turner et al. in press). Bone and wooden tools from Paleolithic archaeological sites in Germany and the Czech Republic are identical to those used for accessing cambium by more recent societies in the region, suggesting that Neanderthals may have harvested and consumed inner bark (Sandgathe and Hayden 2003).
  • Acorns were also commonly gathered as food in many parts of the world. Some oak species has higher tannin contents, which makes their acorns bitter, less palatable, in that case the people boiled and leach them (Kuhnlein and Turner 1991:200) in water with or without lye, made from wood-ashes, or buried them to ground in pits, lets the tannin washed away with rains or by river (Ertug-Yaras 1997; Johns 1990:86). Among various techniques of acorn use for food an ethnographic observation from South Eastern Turkey is interesting: The cupule of the acorn was removed with a knife, and the base of the acorn shell, including the abscission scar, sliced off. The remainder of the shell was peeled off with the knife in longitudinal strips from the base. This was done very skilfully, with no cuts to the surface of the acorn flesh. The tip of the acorn was then removed, and the testa scraped off with the knife, or a sliver of shell. Both the tip and testa are said to be particularly astringent. We were told that water drunk after eating acorns tastes sweeter (Mason and Nesbitt, in press).

Cultivars’ harvest and post harvesting

Various ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological studies have been focused on different aspects of harvesting and post harvesting methods in various parts of the world (e.g. Jones 1984, 1990; Hillman 1984, 1985; and for ethnographic work see Sigault 1988). Harvesting of cereals can vary from uprooting by hand to application of various tools to reape, such as sickles, scythes, or stripping tools such as mesorias (two sticks to strip ears in Northwest Spain) and some aiding tools like hand protectors (see in the pictre below). Legumes usually harvested by uprooting, except fresh green beans, peas and broad beans for vegetable use collected by hand due to that they mature unequally. Drying and threshing may fallow harvest immediately if the grain will be threshed in bulk or it can be delayed and threshed peacemeal in the barns. This can be done again in many different ways: Sigault explains three different methods observed in the Mediterranean, in North Europe and in the Atlantic coast (1988:21-24): In the Mediterranean system, harvesting is done with sickles, usually by men; and threshing is done in the open, usually whole crop threshed at a time with the help of animals (e.g. oxens, horses), either by making them trot over the stalks (trampling), or by harnessing them to threshing sledges, rollers. Winnowing follows threshing, and made by women, and the stalk is then carried away to stored for fodder. The grain is then stored usually in underground silos or wooden boxes or in specially carved caves. In the North European system, reaping sickle was frequently used by women, and the binding of sheaves made by men, winter threshing made in barns usually with flail (Sigault 1988).

Cutting Trifolium for fodder, by F. Ertug.
Cereal harvest with sickles and a finger protector, called ellik, F.Ertug.
Uprooting chickpeas in Central Turkey, F.Ertug.
Cereal harvest in Central Turkey, F.Ertug.
Harvested cereals ready to process, Kastamonu, Turkey, F.Ertug.

Plant Processing

People developed many techniques and tools to process plants. Among them fire, thus baking, roasting and cooking was probably one of the earliest processing technique for all plant types, particularly change the edibility and taste of grains and tuberous plants. Changes in processing are almost often discussed in contexts of changing patterns of resource explotation, betraying a linkage between a specific resource and a given technology, while a resource can be processed in numerous ways resulting in different nutritional 'payoffs' (Stahl 1989).

  • Some plant foods required labor-intensive processing to render them more palatable, safer; or more easily digestable, all of which effect the dietary value of the food (Curtis 2001:51). The first step of processing is to separate desired from unwanted, such as shells, husks, and certain fibrious material, and all these also increase the absorbtion of nutritiens in the digestive track; then comes the crushing it to the desired coarseness, which increase the exposure of starches (ibid). The detoxification process of leaching, soaking or boiling might fallow these stages or they happen before hand crushing. Usually final stages are either baking, roasting or boiling.
  • Crops require different processing depending upon their biological characteristics (e.g. small versus large seeds), harvesting methods and tools. Simple tools such as hammerstones may have had many uses, such as to pound grains, crack nuts, smash dye roots or medicinals or soften fibres. A natural depression of a bedrock can serve as a perfect mortar for pounding seeds, grains, fruits, dye stuff or medicinals. Wooden mortars and bowls are commonly used in the processing of de-husking of hulled grains, and processing leafy plants (Ertug-Yaras 1997; Hillman 1984; Stahl 1989).
  • In southwest Asia, Europe and northern Africa, ground stone implements of various types, identifiable as possible plant grinders or pounders (for example, hammer stones grinding slabs, mortars and pestles), make their first appearance during the Upper Palaeolithic between around 45,000 and 18,000 BP (Piperno et al 2004: 671; Wright 1994). Curtis argues that grinding is a more sophisticated process and appeared later than did pounding, and earliest grindstones were associated with the preparation of pigments, such as ochre, to decorate cave walls (2001:53).
  • One of the earliest clear evidence for plant foods in the diet of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers is from some of the sites excavated in the Wadi Kubanniya, in Upper Egypt, and dated 18.000 B.P. 25 different type of plant remains has been detected and about half have been identified, including tubers of nut-grass (Cyperus rotundus), palm fruit, club rush (Scirpus maritimus/ tuberosus) and their charred state implies use of fire to cook or process them (Hillman et al 1989).
  • Interestingly the rise of agriculture in the mid-eleventh millennium BP in the Near East did not provide new technological innovation, an increased knowledge about plants or a real discovery of new food resources, they were all already there, accumulated over long-term experiences (Curtis 2001:63).
  • The amount of crop need to be processed also affects the techniques and tools used in the process. If the amount of crops is small, then a stick can be used to separate the grains from straw, while large threshing areas and animal power may be necessary for a bulk processing, threshing of grains. While for making flour for a large family a mill stone and again animal power may be needed, but a small hand-mill can be used for processing small amounts of flour of a daily consumption.
An elderly woman pounding red pepper in a wooden mortar in Central Anatolia, photo taken by F.Ertug.
Drying sliced green beans for winter use, Central Anatolia, photo taken by F.Ertug.
Chopping a wild plant before drying for winter in a wooden mortar, which also used for meat pounding, Central Anatolia, photo taken by F.Ertug.
Tredding grapes in a large stone mortar to make 'pekmez', a thick syrup, Central Anatolia, photo taken by F.Ertug.

Food preparation &cooking/ detoxification

‘the game of cooking was about imitation, invention and improvisation; it was about glorifying the ordinary and domesticating the exotic’ (Friedensohn 2005:241).

Actual preparation of food can be started from cleaning, chopping and even butchering in case of animals. Plant processing is not always a necessity to eat a leafy plant or a fruit. But at least we wash the plants to remove the dirt before eating. Various plants needs leaching to remove toxic substances, grinding to reduce excessive mastication and to improve digestibility, and even fermentation to produce a more palatable food or intoxicating beverage (Wickens 2001:151). Some foods, such as wild green leaves and salads, some vegetables, nuts, fruits can be eaten raw, while most others need some kind of process. While some plants need more processing, such as toxic ones, others, such as most of collected wild edible greens can just be eaten as it is: raw may be addition of a bit salt. Together with bread or as salad. They can be mixed with other wild plants or vegetables as onion and garlic, eggs or grain, and can be boiled, roasted or fried. It can be considered as a main dish with added cereals like a soup or gruel, can be a side dish in the presence of meat or fish or just a salad.

When archaeologists talk about plant processing, one of the main issue comes to mind is grinding cereals or various ways of preparations to make them more tastier, more palatable, more nutritious. Both grinding and baking/cooking affects our ingestion and our intake of food/diet. The glycemic index reflects how rapidly glucose from carbohydrates enters the blood after ingestion and baking increase this intake (Piperno et al 2004: 671; The question of when foragers first utilized technologies to pound and grind the wild cereals or other grains to make them palatable is recently answered by starch grain analysis. Starch grains recovered from a ground stone artefact from the Upper Paleolithic site of Ohala II in Israel indicate grinding the grains were practiced about 12.000 years before their domestication (Piperno et al. 2004). Exceptional preservation of this waterlogged site provide us with evidences of numerous charred grains of wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum) and emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccoides) as well as other grass species (e.g. Bromus sp) and 150 starch grains preserved on grinding stone actually indicate they were processed and used in human diet. Their status of baking in an oven like structure is not certain, as no baked product is preserved.

Ethnobotanical studies usually do not focus on issues like cooking, baking and various recepies applied to particular plants, but a wide range of ethnobotanical studies available about detoxification of plants (Johns 1990; Pieroni etal 2002; Ertug 2000; Savvides 2000). For example, the detoxification process of Leopoldia comosa (syn. Muscari comosum) bulbs and Clematis vitalba shoots by a modern rural society in Italy is given as: The bulbs, which have a very strong bitter taste if eaten raw, are cut and macerated overnight (or even over a period of several days) in cold water before being cooked (fried or pickled). People justify this procedure as an action to ‘decrease the bitterness’, which is considered too high in the unprocessed bulbs and not, however, as a detoxification procedure. In the case of Leopoldia, this operation seems to have a ‘phytochemical’ rationality and likely reaches the double aim of decreasing both the potential toxicity of the bulbs and their bitterness. (Pieroni et al. 2002:178). While the bulbs of Leopoldia/ Muscari are commonly consumed in Greece (e.g. Savvides 2000) after similar processes, they do not considered edible in Turkey.

Food processing technologies and their change through time has been quite widely studied by anthropologists, archaeologists and historians, and its implications on society were debated (e.g. Curtis 2001; Dennell 1974; Kuhnlein and Turner 1991; Leach 1999; Levi-Strauss 1970; Sigaut 1988). Cooking or drying, pickling or fermenting are also ways to preserve plants for later use, some of these techniques will be explained under storage. Palmer 2002

Boiling grape juice to make 'pekmez', a thick syrup in Central Anatolia, photo taken by F.Ertug.
Preservation of vegetable and fruits for winter use, Central Anatolia, photo taken by F.Ertug.
A group of women making bread and pies together, Kastamonu, Turkey, photo taken by F.Ertug.
Boiling wheat to make bulgur, one of staple food in Anatolia, photo taken by F.Ertug.
Feeding the livestock, Buldan- Denizli, Turkey, by F. Ertug.

Fodder processing

Animal fodder preparation took an important part of animal husbandry. In areas with long, harsh or wet winters it is particularly important to protect animals in a dry stable and provide food for them. An important part of rural life and agriculture based on providing feed to animals in return to meat, eggs and dairy products. The distinction of food and fodder in the archaeological record has been debated among archaeobotanists for so long (e.g. Charles et al. 1998; Miller 1996; Valamoti and Charles 2005), and some of the points below can be useful to solve some problems.

  • Farmers' work for producing cereals partly devoted to providing straw and grains to feed their animals and to keep them dry. Straw, chaff and hay has many more uses than just beeing fodder. It can mixed with animal dung and provide a very impotant source of fuel: dung-cakes (Anderson and Ertug-Yaras 1998). Some crops particularly grown as feed, like rye, oats, barley, in addition to green fodder, clower (Medicago), and wetch (both Lathyrus and Vicia).
  • In an ethnobotanical study in Central Anatolia 170 wild species (in 34 families; of which Asteraceae has the most numerous species) are recorded as fodder plants animals grazed on, which 1/4 of it is considered edible by humans (Ertug-Yaras 1997). This steppe area has quite limited amount to offer to the cattle, however the study made in the same village by Anderson (1996) on the dung samples indicated that the wild-weed seeds comprise a high proportion than cereal grains. The seeds belonging to 23 families has been documented in dung samples, of which the Chenopadiaceae was the most common family.
  • In addition to grazing, animal owners gather some thorny species in dry areas, and processed them to become palatable as fodder. Thorny plants such as Picnomon acarna, Marrubium vulgare and Salsola ruthenica can be eaten by animals when they are young, but when they become hardy, they were gathered and processed by threshing sledges. Its straw was given to animals after mixing with rye or barley straw, while the larger branches separated as fuel for tandurs and hearths (Ertug-Yaras 1997:184).
  • Hay collection for penned animals is also important, as mixed grasses cut from grasslands provide a variety of nutritions, and diverse tastes. The farmers usually cut these grasses by sickles, sythes and dried them, turned them around, and stored in their yards, fields, gardens. These piles usually include the left over dry vegetables, residues of gardens, such as dry bean pods, stalks, corn stems.
  • Feeding young, sick, pregnant or lactating animals needs a special care, and people add bran, raisins, nuts and process the fodder to smaller pieces by chopping or grinding in mills. Women usually do mechanical part of chopping, feeding, milking, watering of animals. A woman in Buldan were chopping a bunch of wild plants she has collected for feeding her sheep (see photo below).
  • Some residues of other plants, such as the roasted and pressed residues of flax seeds in the production of linseed oil (Ertug 2000b) can be given to the draft animals as valuable fodder.
  • Shepherds and livestock owners pays a particular attention to what the cattle is grazing on, as some plants has to be avoided. Plants such as Lotus aegaeus and Trigonella coerulescens are poisonous, some others such as Melilotus officinalis and Vaccaria piramidata are poisonous to sheep and cattle before the flowers open, but they are not harmful to donkeys at any time. Some plants such as Heliotropium lasiocarpum is only harmful when eaten in large quantities. Allium and Muscari species are also avoided as they give a distinct taste to the milk, while animals are encouraged to graze on species like Thymus and Acinos (Ertug-Yaras 1997).
  • When farmers hand-weeding of crops, for example in vegetable gardens, many of these weeds were used either for animal fodder or for self consumption (e.g. Scolymus hispanicus, Chondrilla juncea, Cichorium intybus) (Pardo-de-Santayana et al 2007).
  • Oaks are used in many parts of Mediterranean as leaf hay, and acorns were fed to all animals. Usually it has gathered and fed animals as whole, but in SE Anatolia, breaking up with a hammer and feeding goats has been recorded (Mason and Nesbitt in press).
Leftovers of the gardens and some hay piled up for winter, Macahel- Artvin, 2005, F.Ertug.
Chopping gathered greens for sheep, Buldan- Denizli, 2003, F. Ertug.
Straw is considered a very important fodder, stored in barns or sheltered areas, Aksaray, 1995, F.Ertug.

Fuel processing

Fuel is a very important element of subsistence, as it is still a necessity for cooking and heating in some countries. In the past the firewood is also used in lighting and in particular crafts, such as firing of pottery. Firewood gathering forged close links between a community and its environment, and the acquisition of firewood is determined primarily by the environment since it was a frequent and repeated activity requiring abundant resources, a degree of control is usually exercised over some of the gathered species which were intended for some purposes such as building timber (Dufraisse 2006). Different management strategies and clues about the social organisation can be detected through careful charchoal analysis as shown in the studies of some waterlogged sites (Dufraisse 2006;). An increasing literature is available especially related to forest and agroforestry management, fuelwood pressure in developing countries, and more research needed on the affects of fuel use on environment.

  • While cutting, pruning, pollarding and coppicing trees is usually considered the men's work, gathering and further processing of firewood and dung are considered as women's work not only in the Near East and around the Mediterranean, but also in the Sub-Saharan Africa (Biran et al 2004).
  • The branches of the pruned trees, such as willow and poplar, chopped up by the women and piled for the next winter. Pruned branches of the vineyards are also stacked up for the fall, to boil the molass of grapes. During the summer, left overs of vegetable gardens, such as dried stalks of maize and beans are also piled up as fuel.
  • In addition to cultivars, during the summer several plants are gathered and dried as kindling, Astragalus and Genista species are the most commonly gathered and piled up next to the houses. A few plants such as Jurinea pontica and some dried mushrooms were used as tinder to light fires, with flint and an iron striker (Ertug-Yaras 1997:183-184).
  • Women and children are main gatherers of fuel, firewood, tinder such as pine cones, and herbaceous fodder. Providing fuel for firewood which is essential for cooking, and fodder to feed the animals are considered among the domestic tasks of females (Biran et al 2004; Boserup 1989; Ertug 2003 ).
  • In arid areas animal dung is an important addition to fuel, and in some cases dung becomes the main fuel. The processing of firewood starts as early as possible, before even the winter comes to an end in many areas of the Mediterranean and the Near East.
  • Charcoal, can be more energy efficient, but for example pine burns rapidly and does not make good coals.
Producing and drying dung cakes in Central Anatolia, F. Ertug.
A pile of dung-cakes, stored for winter, Central Anatolia, F. Ertug.
Astragalus sp. gathered for tinder, Central Anatolia, F. Ertug.

Craft production/ fibers/reeds

Plants used for crafts and their techniques of production are among the most unique examples that we can trace their exact analogies today or in the recent past. Cords, ropes, nets, mats, baskets, containers and bags were the essentials of any prehistoric society and particularly hunter-gatherer way of life. All our ancestors used whatever plant available around them, with quite simple techniques, such as plaiting, braiding, twisting and coiling, and by using a few simple tools. Textiles on the other hand needs more tools, know-how and technology than from cord making and basketry.

A container for storing grain and legumes, made by Typha laxmanii, Aksaray-Turkey, by F. Ertug.
A metal awl used in coiled basketry, Kayseri-Turkey, by F. Ertug.
  • While actual remains of cordages, as well as other remains of plant tissues from the Upper Paleolithic period are extremely rare, textile impressions recovered on small fragments of fired and unfired clay in the European Upper Paleolithic are quite numerous, and eyed needles make their first appearance during the Gravettian period (Soffer et al 2000), which goes back 29.000- 24.000 BP (uncalibrated).
  • Some studies also indicating that the female figurines of this period were depicted with garments such as hats or caps, bands, string skirts, and belts (Barber 1991; Soffer et al. 2000). While animal skin, leather and fur were certainly necessary clothing materials for cold areas and areas with heavy winters, other plant fibres were also available and used.
  • In a waterlogged Paleolithic site, Ohalo II in Israel, which dated back 19.300 BP, a few twisted fibers is found in addition to wealth of botanical remains (Nadel et al 1994). The piles of fishbones found on the same floor might indicate these small fishes cathed by a net, or were in a fiber bag to dry or smoke them. Basket and box fragments made of woven rushes waterproofed with asphalt like material have also been found in the cave of Nahal Hemmar, Israel, dating back 9,000 years (Kislev and Bar- Yosef 1988:176; Schick 1988).
  • Examples of baskets and mats, made by techniques of coiling and plaiting found in abundant numbers in Çatalhöyük, a well known Neolithic town in Turkey. Basketry at Çatalhöyük is preserved as phytolith remains, impressions in the soil and impressions on other objects, mostly clay balls and platters (Wendrich 2005), and these impressions shows similarities with the modern samples produced in the same district of C. Anatolia (Ertug 2006). The containers made by rushes such as Typha and Scirpoides, used mainly for cereal and flour storage and a variety of other baskets. Coils are stiched together with the help of a pointed metal awl, which is among the few tools needed in basketry (see picture).
  • Early depictions of baskets is also found in sculptures (Assurbanipal carrying bricks over his head in a large coiled basket; Finkel and Seymour 2008), on vase paintings (Curtis 2001 Pl.22: Attic amphora, 540-530 BC, satyrs treading grapes to make wine in a flat basket, while some others carrying large baskets at their back full with grapes) and on stels.
  • In textile production spindles, spinning wheels and various types of looms were needed. All fibres differ in their dimensions, and they are tangled at the initial stage, so they need to carded or combed to provide parallel fibres, then ready to spinning. Combing tools and spindles were also found in high numbers in archaeological records. Direct evidences of looms are rare, but early Egptian depictions of ceramics are available (Good 2001).
  • Cotton (Gossypium spp.) is one of the most dominant textile fibre, and the harvest of cotton bolls (fruit) and minimal requirements of post-harvest treatment makes it the most utilized natural fiber (Wickens 2001:268). Leaf fibers, such as flax or hemp on the other hand need to cleaned/separated from non-fibrous material by beating, then scraping/cleaning the softened fibres. At this stage care is needed not to damage the fibres while beating and cleaning. (See Flax (Waterlogged)). As both plants contains high levels of pectin, this can be extracted by burying into soil or by retting, a process where the action of water, fungi and bacteria entering the leaf via stomata, decompose the surrounding part around fibre, thus free the fibre bundles (Wickens 2001:268).
  • Neolithic finds of textiles, especially from waterlogged sites (Jacomet 2008; Heiss and Oeggl 2008; Meier 2004) is quite numerous, some other finds such as the famous ‘Ötzi- Tyrolean Ice Man’ brought actual identifications and provided the actual garments, which if it wasn’t conserved by ice, would have quickly disintigrated in the soil. For example, his shoes were stuffed with grass for insulation and fixed with a network of lime (Tilia) bark strings, his cape also made with vertical bundles of grass (Brachypodium pinnatum) and tied together by lime bast strings, and he was carrying two containers made by birch (Betula) bark (Oeggl 2009: Fig3).
  • Using the bark of lime and birch trees for fiber production and for containers was well known in ethnographical examples. A brief online search in the Kew Collections provides a wealth of material. Link to Kew Collections
  • A bibliography of cordage available at:
  • Vegetable fibres have also been used for making brushes, brooms and whisks (Wickens 2001:277). Add from Marco, Novellino, Ertug 2006


Storing of food, medicinals, fuel and fodder are important factors of humans survival. Storage were known to hunter-gatherers, but storage concept and storage facilities increased with the earliest sedentary villages. Actually storing foods and goods as major investments began with the sedentism, and the bulk storage can be possible only after agriculture. In a seminal paper, Flannery (1972) identified household storage as the defining characteristic of early agricultural villages; through private storage, households formally took on the risks and rewards of producing for their own use (Bogaard et al. in press). Storage bins, containers, pits, baskets, poaches were used by various societies to keep their stored goods, and various plants were also used as insectisides. Although quite a number of ethnographical literature is available, very few overviews, and even less ethnobotanical studies is available on plant storage.

  • Staple foods, especially grain have usually to be kept some time in storage before being consumed, so their preservation is vital for everyone (Sigault 1988). As Sigault argues keeping out moisture, insects, rodents - and thieves- might be enough for processed products such as bulgur and pasta, but grain itself is biologically active, so storing grain for long term was a very challenging task in the past (ibid).
  • Different forms of grain, grain in bulk (threshed and winnowed), grain in bulk with chaff (threshed but not winnowed), ears (separated from culms), ears with the culms, sheaves (ears with culms, bound) has different requirements and constraints. While the latter, sheaves needs more storage space, it is relatively protected againts heating and insect damage. In contrast grain in bulk is less voluminous, needs more work and skill for preservation. Three main means were used generally for grain, all of which has again varied according to climate, type of grain as well as the seasonality or the amount of workforce: storage with ventilation, airtight or hermetic storage and no-control storage- without apparent devices like ventilation or airtightness (Sigault 1988:6). Ventilated and elevated granaries of Northern Portugal and Spain, horreos and espiguerios, was used for storing grain in the ear, particularly for maize hanging from under the eaves, as we can also observe in Northeast Anatolia (see picture below). Elevated granaries of Asturias had no ventilation, sufficiently rodent-proof and the grain stored in bulk (ibid:10).
  • Among one of the common techniques of grain storage is keeping them in an airtight pits. Digging underground pits and storing the grain was a well known practice throughout the Near East. After digging a pit, straw is spread at the bottom and top of the grain, then trampled down with earth until it is leveled (Ertug-Yaras 1997:90). This kind of storage have shortfalls, the pit has then be protected from flooding. These pits also used for storing acorns and potato like 'root' crops.
  • Panagiotakopulu et al (1995:706) provides historical information about pit storage: Pits used for storage are noted by both Varro and Pliny in Cappadocia, Spain and Africa. The need to exclude air in pit storage was recognized and claims for successful preservation of wheat for up to 50 years and millet for a century are noted.
  • Storage containers made by earth were also common in the past. Limestone model granaries from the fifth dynasty tomb at Giza (Curtis 2001:Pl 4) or terra cotta models of granaries from ca. 850 B.C. Greek Geometric culture (Curtis 2001:Pl. 20) shows parallel lines with todays granaries. Samples of these granaries are available in Turkey, Iran, Jordan, particularly used for storing flour and grains (e.g. Kramer 2002; Palmer 2002; Watson 1979). These called ambar or petek and were produced closer to storerooms by women, and were not fired. They produced them on a three-footed wooden base, and by adding a few coils every day, completed them in about ten days.
  • Wooden chests are also common to store grains, flour, legumes and other dried foodstuff. In addition to the baskets, jars, and containers of many sizes; dried fruit and herbs, as well as onions, garlic bunches, and peppers usually hanged to the beams of storage areas. Ethnographical studies indicates that the gathered food plants and the cultivated ones may well share the same storage area, as well as the hunted and herded animal products (Ertug-Yaras 1997; Kramer 1982). In present day rural Greece, Halstead has noted both the use of dung-lined baskets, and the dousing of pulses with olive oil before storage as insect deterrents (Halstead 1990).
A white plastered granary, Elazig-Turkey, by F. Ertug.
Carved storage area with large grain storage boxes for grain in bulk and for flour, Aksaray, Turkey, Photo taken by F. Ertug.
Storing maize in ears for winter at elevated and ventilated granary, Macahel-Artvin, Turkey, Photo taken by F. Ertug.
A storeroom with large jars, various vessels, containers to store foods such as bulgur, legumes and liquids, Isparta, Turkey, Photo taken by Josephine Powell.
Elevated granaries of Asturias, by F. Ertug.
Preparations for keeping grapes for winter, Goreme, Nevsehir, Turkey, Photo taken by F. Ertug.

Trade & Exchange

Ethnobotanical and ethnographical surveys provide clues about how goods traded in domestic level and within national borders (Ertug-Yaras 1997). In a traditional system and within subsistence economy, trade or barter has a very important role in providing the goods, and non-available items that people can not produce or find in their surrounding landscape.

People trade their extra production with the food items they need, or peddlers, initirant merchants trade their goods with eggs, dried fruit or pelts. Some craftsmen also trade their production or service with crops, grains or wool. Ironsmith, horse-shoer, village barber collects their year around service payments as grain after the harvest, pottery sellers barter their pots with the amount of grain those pots can be filled with.

Trading pots with the amount of grain those pots can be filled with, Malatya-Turkey, by F. Ertug.
  • In addition to within village barter, and trade among close villages, long distance trades were also popular, particularly for providing items such as salt, tea, medicine and spices in addition to other material such as cloths, beads, dyes. Camel caravans were quite active in many areas, and covered long distances (e.g. silk route), connected continents and carried not only the goods but the information.
  • Gathered plants probably have more distinct role role in the trade of the past, than we usually assumed. An ethnobotanical study focused on food-medicinals among the Hausa of Nigeria indicate a very interesting aspect: The researchers were identified 637 plant species as components of the local pharmacopoeia. Approximately one third are ‘imported’ by traders from areas ranging between 5 and 500 km distance and are subsequently available to local villagers via the numerous markets to which they have access. Plant roots, tree barks, and dried leaf preparations are accessible throughout the year as are imported condiments and spices which are purchased regularly in markets (Etkin and Ross 1982). Most of these were probably not provided from cultivation, but from wild gathering. This fact is still true today, that most of the herbal teas found in local markets around the Mediterranean came from wild (e.g. Hamiladou et al 2004).
  • Not only medicinal drugs and herbs, spices but food plants like fruits, nuts, herbs and mushrooms may travelled well in dried condition. The role of spices in the discovery of trade routes has been partly covered in the above section of additives under the Human Food and Diet. Freeman (2008) and several other researchers (Hobbhouse 1999) indicate the role of spices in these explorations. The spice route as well as silk route were well known trade channels between the East and West.
  • Some dye plants and mordants/tanning, such as madder roots, barks, acorn cups, resins also had a value as commodities in trade. Several well known trade routes related to nonperishable materials such as obsidian were discovered, however it was more difficult to find out about the trade of plant based materials.

References (cultivating)

  • Bichard 2008
  • Bogaard et al. in press
  • Curtis 2001
  • Ertug-Yaras 1997
  • Ertug 1998
  • Ertug 2000a
  • Ertug 2000b
  • Ertug 2004a
  • Ertug 2004b
  • Finkel and Seymour 2008
  • Flannery 1972
  • Freeman 2008
  • Friedl 2006
  • Friedensohn 2005
  • Gero and Conkey 1991
  • Gerritsen 2000
  • Good 2001
  • Hardy 2007
  • Heinrich 2006
  • Hillman et al 1989
  • Hobhouse 1999
  • Jacomet and Brombacher 2005
  • Johns 1990
  • Lalueza et al. 1996
  • Lee 1965
  • Leonti et al 2006
  • Mason and Nesbitt in press
  • Munson 1989
  • Nabhan 1985
  • Ogle and Grivetti 1985
  • Palmer 2002
  • Pieroni 1999
  • Piperno et al. 2004
  • Reader 1990
  • Sandgathe and Hayden 2003
  • Sigault 1988
  • Soffer 1985
  • Soffer 1989
  • Stahl 1989
  • Turner et al. in press
  • Wendorf et al 1989
  • Wickens 2001
  • Wright 1994

References (processing)

  • Anderson 1996
  • Barber 1991
  • Bichard 2008
  • Bogaard et al. in press
  • Charles et al. 1998
  • Curtis 2001
  • Ertug-Yaras 1997
  • Ertug 2000a
  • Ertug 2000b
  • Ertug 2004a
  • Ertug 2004b
  • Ertug 2006
  • Finkel and Seymour 2008
  • Flannery 1972
  • Freeman 2008
  • Friedensohn 2005
  • Gero and Conkey 1991
  • Good 2001
  • Hardy 2007
  • Hillman et al 1989
  • Hobbhouse 1999
  • Jacomet and Brombacher 2005
  • Mason and Nesbitt in press
  • Miller 1996
  • Nabhan 1985
  • Ogle and Grivetti 1985
  • Pardo-de-Santayana et al 2007
  • Palmer 2002
  • Pieroni
  • Piperno et al. 2004
  • Reader 1990
  • Soffer 1985
  • Soffer 1989
  • Valamoti and Charles 2005
  • Wendorf et al 1989
  • Wendrich 2005
  • Wickens 2001
  • Wright 1994