Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • Alexandra Livarda (a1) and Georgia Kotzamani (a2)

This paper explores the full potential of archaeobotanical research in the investigation of issues such as agricultural practices and resource management and mobilisation in shaping the social dynamics of Neolithic and Bronze Age Crete, through a synthesis for the first time of all available archaeobotanical information to date. To this body of data new information is added from six sites: Kephala Petras, Pryniatikos Pyrgos, Aghia Fotia, Knossos Little Palace North, Sissi and Zominthos. A comprehensive methodology is devised using three units of analysis to allow an in-depth study, firstly of the quality of the available dataset and secondly of its content. A total of 80 archaeobotanical records, compiled in one database, are examined in the light of the methods employed for their sampling, recovery and processing. The reliability of the current dataset is assessed, highlighting shortcomings; methodological issues are addressed to improve its quality. These records are then analysed according to their temporal, spatial and contextual distribution across the island. A synthesis of the full resource base, including cereals, legumes, fruits, nuts, condiments and wild species, is conducted, providing a contextualised picture of their availability and use, and identifying lacunae and interpretational potential. On these bases a research agenda is set and future research priorities and new approaches are suggested that place archaeobotany in the core of current archaeological discourse on social models, practices and meanings for prehistoric Crete.

Η αρχαιοβοτανική της Κρήτης κατά τη Νεολιθική και την Εποχή Χαλκού: σύνθεση και προοπτικές

Το άρθρο αυτό εξετάζει τη δυναμική της αρχαιοβοτανικής έρευνας στη διερεύνηση ζητημάτων σχετικών με τη συμβολή των αγροτικών πρακτικών και της διαχείρισης και διακίνησης των φυτικών πόρων στη διαμόρφωση των κοινωνικών δομών της Κρήτης κατά τη Νεολιθική και την Εποχή Χαλκού, μέσα από τη σύνθεση, για πρώτη φορά, όλων των διαθέσιμων έως σήμερα αρχαιοβοτανικών δεδομένων. Στο πληροφοριακό αυτό σύνολο προστίθενται νέες σχετικές μαρτυρίες από έξι ακόμη αρχαιολογικές θέσεις (Κεφάλα Πετρά, Πρινιάτικος Πύργος, Αγία Φωτιά, Μικρό Ανάκτορο Κνωσσού-Βόρεια, Σίσσυ και घώμινθος). Μέσα από μια νέα, ολοκληρωμένη μεθοδολογική προσέγγιση, που χρησιμοποιεί τρεις ενότητες ανάλυσης, επιχειρείται η σε βάθος μελέτη του περιεχομένου και της ποιότητας των αρχαιοβοτανικών δεδομένων. Ένα σύνολο από 80 εγγραφές, συγκεντρωμένες σε μια κοινή βάση δεδομένων, εξετάζεται ως προς τη μεθοδολογία δειγματοληψίας, συλλογής και επεξεργασίας των αρχαιοβοτανικών δεδομένων. Παράλληλα, επιχειρείται η αποτίμηση της αξιοπιστίας του συνόλου των διαθέσιμων αρχαιοβοτανικών πληροφοριών, υπογραμμίζονται πιθανές ερευνητικές αδυναμίες και προτείνονται μεθοδολογικές διόδοι για την ποιοτική τους βελτίωση. Στη συνέχεια ακολουθεί η ανάλυση των σχετικών δεδομένων με βάση τη χρονική και χωρική τους κατανομή στο νησί λαμβάνοντας υπόψιν την αρχαιολογική τους συνάφεια. Μέσα από αυτήν την αναλυτική προσέγγιση προκύπτει μία σύνθεση ολόκληρου του φάσματος των φυτικών πόρων (δημητριακά, όσπρια, φρούτα, καρποί, αρωματικά φυτά και στοιχεία της άγριας χλωρίδας), διερευνάται η διαθεσιμότητα και οι πιθανές χρήσεις τους και αναγνωρίζονται τα κενά και η ερμηνευτική δυναμική των αρχαιοβοτανικών δεδομένων. Με βάση αυτά επιχειρείται, τέλος, η συγκρότηση ενός ερευνητικού πλαισίου και προτείνονται μελλοντικές προτεραιότητες και προσεγγίσεις της έρευνας, που τοποθετούν την αρχαιοβοτανική στον πυρήνα του σύγχρονου αρχαιολογικού διαλόγου που πραγματεύεται τις έννοιες των κοινωνικών μοντέλων, πρακτικών και νοημάτων αναφορικά με την προϊστορική Κρήτη.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Bogaard, A., Charles, M., Livarda, A., Ergun, M., Filipovic, D. and Jones, G. in press. ‘The archaeobotany of mid–later occupation levels at Neolithic Çatalhöyük’, in Hodder, I. (ed.), Humans and Landscapes of Çatalhöyük: Reports from the 2000–2008 seasons (Monographs of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California at Los Angeles; Los Angeles).
Bogaard, A., Heaton, T.H.E., Poulton, P. and Merbach, I. 2007. ‘The impact of manuring on nitrogen isotope ratios in cereals: Archaeological implications for reconstruction of diet and crop management practices’, Journal of Archaeological Science 34, 335–43.
Cadogan, J. 1978. ‘Pyrgos, Crete, 1970–7’, Archaeological Reports 24, 70–84.
Chapouthier, F. and Charbonneaux, J. 1928. Fouilles exécutées à Mallia: premier rapport (1922–1924) (Etudes Crétoises vol. 1; Paris).
Evans, A.J. 1901. ‘Knossos. Summary report of the excavations in 1900: I. The Palace’, Annual of the British School at Athens 6, 370.
Evans, A. 1928. The Palace of Minos at Knossos, vol. 2 (London).
Evans, A. 1935. The Palace of Minos at Knossos, vol. 4 (London).
Evans, J.D., Cann, J.R., Renfrew, A.C., Cornwall, I.W. and Western, A.C. 1964. ‘Excavations in the Neolithic settlement of Knossos, 1957–60. Part I’, Annual of the British School at Athens 59, 132240.
Fernald, M.L. and Kinsey, A.C. 1986. Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America (New York).
Ferrio, J.P., Araus, J.L., Buxó, R., Voltas, J. and Bort, J. 2005. ‘Water management practices and climate in ancient agriculture: Inference from the stable isotope composition of archaeobotanical remains’, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 14, 510–7.
Fiorentino, G. and Solinas, F. 2006. ‘Carboni e carporesti dal palazzo di Monastiraki. Indagini paleoambientali e paleoeconomiche’, in Kanta, A. and Marazzi, M. (eds.), Monastiraki I. Campagne 2002–2004 (Quaderni della Fondazione Scavolini, Serie Beni Culturali 4; Naples), 123–9.
Follieri, M. 1985. ‘Provviste alimentari vegetali in una casa minoica ad Haghia Triada (Creta)’, Annuario della Scuola Archeologica di Atene e delle Missioni Italiane in Oriente 57(41), 165–72.
Fraser, R.A., Bogaard, A., Heaton, T., Charles, M., Jones, G., Christensen, B.T., Halstead, P., Merbach, I., Poulton, P.R., Sparkes, D. and Styring, A.K. 2011. ‘Manuring and stable nitrogen isotope ratios in cereals and pulses: Towards a new archaeobotanical approach to the inference of land use and dietary practices’, Journal of Archaeological Science 38, 2790–804.
Galaty, M.L., Nakassis, D. and Parkinson, W.A. (eds.) 2011. ‘Forum: Redistribution in Aegean palatial societies’, American Journal of Archaeology 115(2), 175244.
Gamble, C. 1981. ‘Social control and the economy’, in Sheridan, A. and Bailey, G. (eds.), Economic Archaeology (Oxford), 215–29.
Gennadios, P.G. 1914. Φυτολογικόν Λεξικόν (Athens).
Halstead, P. 1981. ‘From determinism to uncertainty: Social storage and the rise of the Minoan Palace’, in Sheridan, A. and Bailey, G. (eds.), Economic Archaeology (Oxford), 187213.
Halstead, P. 1992. ‘The Mycenaean palatial economy: Making the most of the gaps in the evidence’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 38, 5786.
Halstead, P. 2004. ‘Life after Mediterranean polyculture: The subsistence subsystem and the Emergence of Civilisation revisited’, in Barrett, J.C. and Halstead, P. (eds.), The Emergence of Civilisation Revisited (Sheffield Studies in Aegean Archaeology 6; Oxford), 189206.
Halstead, P. 2011. ‘Redistribution in Aegean palatial societies: Terminology, scale, and significance’, American Journal of Archaeology 115(2), 229–35.
Halstead, P. and O'Shea, J. 1982. ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed: Social storage and the origins of social ranking’, in Renfrew, C. and Shennan, S. (eds.), Ranking, Resource and Exchange (Cambridge), 92–9.
Hamilakis, Y. 1996. ‘Wine, oil and the dialectics of power in Bronze Age Crete: A review of the evidence’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 15(1), 132.
Hamilakis, Y. 1999. ‘Food technologies/technologies of the body: The social context of wine and oil production and consumption in Bronze Age Crete’, World Archaeology 31(1), 3854.
Hansen, J.M. 1988. ‘Agriculture in the prehistoric Aegean: Data versus speculation’, American Journal of Archaeology 92, 3952.
Hansen, J.M. 2000. ‘Palaeoethnobotany and palaeodiet in the Aegean region: Notes on legume toxicity and related pathologies’, in Vaughan, S.J. and Coulson, W.D.E. (eds.), Palaeodiet in the Aegean: Papers from a Colloquium held at the 1993 meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Washington D.C. (Oxford), 1327.
Heaton, T.H.E., Jones, J., Halstead, P. and Tsipropoulos, T. 2009. ‘Variations in the 13C/12C ratios of modern wheat grain, and implications for interpreting data from Bronze Age Assiros Toumba, Greece’, Journal of Archaeological Science 36, 2224–33.
Isaakidou, V. 2007. ‘Cooking in the Labyrinth: Exploring “cuisine” at Bronze Age Knossos’, in Mee, C. and Renard, J. (eds.), Cooking up the Past: Food and Culinary Practices in the Neolithic and Bronze Age Aegean (Oxford), 524.
Jones, G. 1984. ‘The LMII plant remains’, in Popham, M.R. (ed.), The Minoan Unexplored Mansion at Knossos (British School at Athens supp. vol. 17; London), 303–6.
Jones, G. 1987. ‘Agricultural practice in Greek prehistory’, Annual of the British School at Athens 82, 115–23.
Jones, G. 1992. ‘Ancient and modern cultivation of Lathyrus ochrus (L.) DC. in the Greek islands’, Annual of the British School at Athens 87, 211–17.
Jones, G. and Schofield, A. 2006. ‘Evidence for the use of threshing remains at the Early Minoan metallurgical workshop’, in Betancourt, P.P. (ed.), The Chrysokamino Metallurgy Workshop and its Territory (Hesperia supp. vol. 36; Princeton), 153–4.
Jones, M. and Brown, T. 2007. ‘Selection, cultivation and reproductive isolation: A reconsideration of the morphological and molecular signals of domestication’, in Vrydaghs, L., Denham, T.P. and Iriarte, J. (eds.), Rethinking Agriculture: Archaeological and Ethnoarchaeological Perspectives (One World Archaeology 51; Walnut Creek), 3649.
Kavvadas, D. 1956–64. Εικονογραφημένον Βοτανικόν Φυτολογικόν Λεξικόν, Τόμοι I–IX (Athens).
Knappett, C., Evans, T. and Rivers, R. 2011. ‘The Theran eruption and Minoan palatial collapse: New interpretations gained from modelling the maritime network’, Antiquity 85, 1008–23.
Kopaka, K. (ed.) 2009. Zakros: Ourania to Froudi: The Cave and the Natural Rockshelters (Athens).
Kopaka, K., and Matzanas, C. 2009. ‘Palaeolithic industries from the island of Gavdos, near neighbour to Crete in Greece’, Antiquity 83, online project gallery: <>.
Kroll, H. 1991. ‘Südosteuropa. Southeast Europe’, in Van Zeist, W., Wasylikowa, K. and Behre, K.-E. (eds.), Progress in Old World Palaeoethnobotany (Rotterdam), 161–77.
Leporatti, L.L. and Impieri, M. 2007. ‘Ethnobotanical notes about some uses of medicinal plants in Alto Tirreno Cosentino area (Calabria, Southern Italy)’, Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 3:34.
Livarda, A. 2011. ‘Spicing up life in northwestern Europe: Exotic food plant imports in the Roman and medieval world’, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 20, 143–64.
Livarda, A. in prep. a. ‘The archaeobotanical remains from Myrtos-Pyrgos'.
Livarda, A. in prep. b. ‘The archaeobotanical evidence from Bronze Age Kephali at Sissi (Crete)’.
Livarda, A. and Kotzamani, G. forthcoming. ‘Late Minoan archaeobotanical evidence from Zominthos, Crete’.
Mangafa, M. and Kotsakis, K. 1996. ‘A new method for the identification of wild and cultivated charred grape seeds’, Journal of Archaeological Science 23, 409–18.
Megaloudi, F. 2006. Plants and Diet in Greece from Neolithic to Classic Periods: The Archaeobotanical Remains (British Archaeological Reports International Series 1516; Oxford).
Molloy, B.P.C., Day, J., Bridgford, S.D., Carter, T., Isaakidou, V., Kotzamani, G., Nodarou, E., Milić, M., Westlake, P., Klontza-Jaklova, V., Larsson, E., Bates, E. and Hayden, B. forthcoming. ‘Connectivity, complexity and commensality in an East Cretan village community: The Early Minoan I settlement at Priniatikos Pyrgos’.
Nakassis, D., Parkinson, W.A. and Galaty, M.L. 2011. ‘Redistributive economies from a theoretical and cross-cultural perspective’, American Journal of Archaeology 115(2), 177–84.
Renfrew, A.C. 1972. The Emergence of Civilisation: The Cyclades and the Aegean in the Third Millennium B.C. (London).
Renfrew, J.M. 1972. ‘The plant remains’, in Warren, P. (ed.), Myrtos: An Early Bronze Age Settlement in Crete (British School at Athens supp. vol. 7; London), 315–7.
Sarpaki, A. 1989. ‘Palaikastro. Preliminary environmental report’, Annual of the British School at Athens 84, 435–6.
Sarpaki, A. 1992a. ‘A palaeoethnobotanical study of the West House, Akrotiri, Thera’, Annual of the British School at Athens 87, 219–30.
Sarpaki, A. 1992b. ‘A palaeoethnobotanical approach. The Mediterranean triad or is it a quartet?’, in Wells, B. (ed.), Agriculture in Ancient Greece (Stockholm), 6176.
Sarpaki, A. 1995. ‘Toumba Balomenou, Chaeronia: Plant remains from the Early and Middle Neolithic levels’, Res Archaeobotanicae (Kiel), 281300.
Sarpaki, A. 1999. ‘The archaeobotanical study of Tzambakas House, Rethymno, Crete’, in Tzedakis, Y. and Martlew, H. (eds.), Minoans and Mycenaeans, Flavours of their Time (Athens), 1314, 50, 51.
Sarpaki, A. 2000. ‘The study of palaeodiet in the Aegean: Food for thought’, in Vaughan, S. and Coulson, J. (eds.), Palaeodiet in the Aegean (Oxford), 115–21.
Sarpaki, A. 2007. ‘Résultats archéobotaniques préliminaires dans divers secteurs de Malia’, Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 131, 882–4.
Sarpaki, A. 2009a. ‘Knossos, Crete: Invaders, “sea-goers”, or previously “invisible”, the Neolithic plant economy appears fully-fledged in 9000 BP’, in Fairburn, A. and Weiss, E. (eds.), From Foragers to Farmers (Oxford), 220–34.
Sarpaki, A. 2009b. ‘The Cave of Ourania to Froudi, Zakros: The archaeobotanical remains’, in Kopaka, K. (ed.), Zakros: Ourania to Froudi: The Cave and the Natural Rockshelters (Athens), 61–8.
Sarpaki, A. 2012a. ‘The taming of an island environment: Crete from dawn to noon (Neolithic to the end of the Bronze Age)’, in Cadogan, G., Iacovou, M., Kopaka, K. and Whitley, J. (eds.), Parallel Lives: Ancient Island Societies in Crete and Cyprus (London), 3545.
Sarpaki, A. 2012b. ‘Re-visiting the visibility of the grape, grape products, by-products, and some insights of its organization from the prehistoric Aegean, as guided by new evidence from Monastiraki, Crete’, Interdisciplinaria Archaeologica: Natural Sciences in Archaeology 3(2), 211–20.
Sarpaki, A. forthcoming. ‘A study of the palaeoethnobotanical remains from the site of Kastelli, Chania’.
Sarpaki, A. and Jones, G. 1990. ‘Ancient and modern cultivation of Lathyrus clymenum L. in the Greek islands’, Annual of the British School at Athens 85, 363–8.
Sarpaki, A. and Kanta, A. 2011. ‘Monastiraki in the Amari region of Crete: Some interim archaeobotanical insights into Middle Bronze Age subsistence’, in Andreadaki-Vlazaki, M. and Papadopoulou, E. (eds.), Πεπραγμένα Ιʹ Διεθνούς Κρητολογικού Συνεδρίου, Τόμος Α1 – Προϊστορικοί Χρόνοι (Chania), 247–70.
Schlumbaum, A., Tensen, M. and Jaenicke-Després, V. 2008. ‘Ancient plant DNA in archaeobotany’, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 17, 233–44.
Schmidt, J. and Stavisky, N. 1983. ‘Uses of Thymalaea hirsuta (mitnan) with emphasis on hand papermaking’, Economic Botany 37(3), 310–21.
Shay, C.T. and Shay, J.M. with Frego, K.A. and Zwiazek, J. 1995. ‘The modern flora and plant remains from Bronze Age deposits at Kommos’, in Shay, C.T. and Shay, J.M. (eds.), Kommos I: The Kommos Region and Houses of the Minoan Town (Princeton), 116–62.
Shelmerdine, C.W. 2008. The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge).
Skoula, M., Sarpaki, A., Dal Cin D'Agata, C., Georgiakakis, P. and Lymberakis, P. 2010. Άυλη Πολιτιστική Κληρονομιά και Βιοποικιλότητα: Εθνοβιολογική μελέτη στην περιοχή του Κίσσαμου στην Κρήτη <>.
Strasser, T.F., Panagopoulou, E., Runnels, C., Murray, P., Thompson, N., Karkanas, P., McCoy, F. and Wegmann, K. 2010. ‘Stone Age seafaring in the Mediterranean: Evidence from the Plakias region for the Lower Palaeolithic and Mesolithic habitation of Crete’, Hesperia 79, 149–90.
Sturtevant, E.L. (ed. Hedrick, U.P.) 1952. Sturtevant's Notes on Edible Plants (Albany).
Tartaron, T.F. 2008. ‘Aegean prehistory as world archaeology: Recent trends in the archaeology of Bronze Age Greece’, Journal of Archaeological Research 16, 83161.
Terral, J.-F., Alonso, N., Buxó, R., Chatti, N., Fabre, L., Fiorentino, G., Marinval, P., Jorda, G.P., Pradat, B., Rovira, N. and Alibert, P. 2004. ‘Historical biogeography of olive domestication (Olea europaea L.) as revealed by geometrical morphometry applied to biological and archaeological material’, Journal of Biogeography 31, 6377.
Uphof, J.C.T. 1968. A Dictionary of Economic Plants (Lehre).
Usher, G. 1974. A Dictionary of Plants used by Man (London).
Valamoti, S.M. 2004. Plants and People in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Northern Greece (British Archaeological Reports International Series 1258; Oxford).
Valamoti, S.M. 2009. Η Αρχαιοβοτανική Έρευνα της Διατροφής στην Προϊστορική Ελλάδα (Thessaloniki).
Van der Veen, M. and Fieller, N. 1982. ‘Sampling seeds’, Journal of Archaeological Science 9, 287–98.
Van der Veen, M. and Jones, G. 2006. ‘A re-analysis of agricultural production and consumption: Implications for understanding of the British Iron Age’, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 15(3), 217–28.
Vasilakis, A.S. 1989. “Ο Πρωτομινωικός Οικισμός Τρυπητής”, Αρχαιολογία 30, 52–6.
Ventris, M. and Chadwick, J. 1973. Documents in Mycenaean Greek (2nd edn; Cambridge).
Vickery, K.F. 1936. Food in Early Greece (Chicago).
Warren, P., Jarman, M.R., Jarman, H.N., Shackleton, N.J. and Evans, J.D. 1968. ‘Knossos Neolithic, Part II’, Annual of the British School at Athens 63, 239–76.
Younger, J.G. and Rehak, P. 2008. ‘The material culture of Neopalatial Crete’, in Shelmerdine, C.W. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge), 140–64.
Zohary, D. and Hopf, M. 2000. Domestication of Plants in the Old World – The Origin and Spread of Cultivated Plants in West Asia, Europe and the Nile Valley (3rd edn; Oxford).
Zois, A. 1992. “Βασιλική Ιεράπετρας”, Το Έργον της Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας κατά το 1991, (Athens), 109–10.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Annual of the British School at Athens
  • ISSN: 0068-2454
  • EISSN: 2045-2403
  • URL: /core/journals/annual-of-the-british-school-at-athens
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed