Understanding the origins and spread of agriculture in the western Mediterranean
The first cultivated plants in south-western Europe date back to the first half of the 6th millennium BC. Farmers in this region cultivated a wide variety of crops which included cereals and legumes, as well as other crops such as flax and poppy. They also collected wild plants. Yet, available data from this area is scarce and unevenly distributed across the territory: with blank regions, like northern Morocco, where archaeobotanical data is still almost non-existent.
Dr Leonor Peña-Chocarro, who is working at the Spanish National Research Council with an ERC Advanced Grant, is generating an invaluable dataset on the spread of agriculture into this region by analysing new sites both in Spain and Morocco. Dr Peña-Chocarro and her team are exploring interrelated research areas and combining different methodologies in order to investigate the way agriculture was adopted in this area. The project involves the development of various approaches and the application of different techniques such as archaeobotany (analysis of seeds, pollen, wood charcoal and phytoliths); micro-wear analyses (functional studies of tools), geoarchaeology, and analyses of isotopes and genetics. This will help to define the emergence and spread of agriculture in the area, its likely place of origin, its main technological attributes and the range of crop husbandry practices carried out.
In addition, the research process involves ethnoarchaeological studies in areas where agriculture is still practised in a non-mechanised way. These studies are also focused on ancient species or those in danger of extinction. One of these ancient species is einkorn, which was the first domesticated wheat species more than 12,000 years ago and which can still be found in Morocco.
Dr Peña-Chocarro’s hope is to provide an input into the debate surrounding the spread of agriculture into Europe, which has largely been focused on other regions, leaving the western part of the continent little explored. The different approaches and methodologies used should allow a greater understanding of the type of agriculture that characterised the first farming communities in the south-western part of Europe.