Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - OVIPE (The olive and the vine in European Prehistory)

The OVIPE project aims to shed light on the status of the olive and the vine in European prehistory, to re-evaluate their biogeography and to detect the origins of wine and olive oil production in Europe. The project integrates analytical and theoretical approaches and sees the domestication process as a basic causal chain where human behavioural change leads to genetic change and so to morphological change of plants. These changes can be detected through evidence for landscape modification, increase of domesticated species, morphological changes, crop processing, technological change and increased and improved storage facilities. These aspects are being examined through: i) the study of archaeobotanical remains of the olive and vine; ii) analysis of archaeobotanical remains indicative of the production of wine and olive oil; iii) examination of excavated vine and olive charcoal; iv) genetic study of modern landscapes of olives and vines; and v) analysis of ancient DNA (aDNA hereafter) of charred grape and olive remains. The following key questions are being addressed by an integrated multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach:
1. What was the status of the olive and the vine in the agricultural regimes of 3rd millennium southern Europe? Do the finds of olives and vines present in the archaeological record represent gathering from the wild or intentional cultivation? (WP1)

2. What is the evidence for intensive interaction and cultivation other than the presence of seeds of grape and olive? (WP2)

3. How can we detect evidence for wine and olive oil production? How can we reconstruct the economic and social role they had during the 3rd millennium BC in southern Europe? (WP3)

4. Were domesticated olives and vines brought from the east and mingled with the local populations?
Or did a local domestication event happen in south Europe? (WP4)

Description of the work performed since the beginning of the project: WP1: Olive stones and grape pips were gathered from modern old varieties and populations, located in Greece, mainly in Crete, and in Cyprus, mainly in the Limassol region. The analysis of variation in seed morphology provided accurate criteria for discrimination between modern wild and cultivated examples and to understand changes in functional traits in relation to the domestication process. Extensive fieldwork was also undertaken at excavations both in Greece and Cyprus aiming at the recovery of archaeobotanical material of olive and grapes (eight sites on Crete, six on the mainland, five on the Aegean islands, and six on Cyprus). On the basis of this analysis, it was possible to create a very large body of archaeobotanical data and create models for the distinction not only between wild and domesticated olive stones and grape pips, but also to be able to identify differences between varieties. Training: during this WP the fellow learned new methodological tools such as Geometric Morphometry and image analysis. She was also trained in Linear Image Analysis, and the Elliptic Fourier Transform (EFT) method which involves using Discriminant Analysis. Additional training was obtained at Montpellier University where the fellow was able to work and receive training from Prof. Terral’s team, which has published extensively on the subject. In addition, joint publications are the outcome of this collaboration. WP2: the methodological steps to meet this WP were the identification of wood charcoal of vine and olive in the samples from eight 3rd millennium sites in Crete. The resulting data were then combined with the information deriving from the archaeobotanical material retrieved from the same sites. In addition, a collation of existing charcoal data from the Near East and the coast of Turkey was undertaken in order to elucidate the timeframe of similar transformations at the routes into Europe. Training: the fellow underwent detailed training in charcoal identification and description, producing charcoal diagrams, and utilising the requisite software. This training is a significant advance in research methodology as seed and wood identification are not often combined. WP3: The focus of this WP was on the recovery, through extensive fieldwork and characterisation, of archaeobotanical remains of large quantities of pressed grapes and crushed olive stones, indicating the presence of residues of wine and olive oil production from eight sites of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium in Greece and Cyprus. In addition, new evidence for early devices potentially connected with the production of oil and wine, as well as new evidence from residue analysis, have been combined. The plant assemblages were analysed in order to confirm pre-depositional treatment consistent with the processing of raw materials into oil and wine. The sites investigated can now be characterised as examples of the first well-organised settlements oriented to the production of an agricultural surplus, exchange networks and trade. Training: the fellow joined the GIS course offered at Cambridge, facilitating the geographic interpretation of the data, combining the results of the project with information from other areas, and tracing the geographic spread of olive and vine domestication across the Mediterranean. WP4: several landraces of olives and grapes from various areas of Greece and Cyprus were sampled. Collaboration with the University of Warwick has been established for the extraction of aDNA. The results led to a collaborative article between the fellow and the other researchers of both teams in Cambridge and Warwick, to be submitted to the Journal of Archaeological Science. Although the majority of the fieldwork focused on the retrieval of archaeobotanical remains of olive and grape was completed, the aDNA analyses are not yet complete. Training: during the second year of the Fellowship the fellow focused on training in the methods for extracting modern and ancient DNA from seeds. The fellow was trained by Dr. Diane Lister at the Glyn Daniel Laboratory at the McDonald Institute to extract modern and aDNA. The fellow was additionally trained by the Warwick team to extract aDNA from charred remains. Description of the main results achieved so far: WP1: The first analytical objective of the present project was to define the timeframe of the initial intensive cultivation of the vine and the olive by the analysis of a large number of recently collated archaeobotanical samples of olive and grapes. In this way, it was possible to determine if the olive and grape remains found in the 3rd millennium Aegean and Cyprus (and occasionally even earlier) belong to wild or cultivated species. It was suggested that the majority of the grape and olive remains found for the Early Bronze Age are the result of cultivation and not gathering from the wild. On the basis of this analysis, it was possible to create a very large body of archaeobotanical data and create models for the distinction not only between wild and domesticated olive stones and grape pips, but also to be able to identify differences between varieties. WP2: Wood charcoal of vine and olive can indicate evidence of activities such as pruning, the latter an activity which clearly suggests intensive interaction with and transformation of the trees. As a result of this analysis, it was possible to conclude that the charcoal evidence points to intensive interaction of both olive and vine during the 3rd millennium in Greece and Cyprus, strongly suggesting their cultivation and not merely their gathering from the wild. In addition, the evidence of the charcoal analysis showed that the landscape has changed at this period, and olive groves and vineyards were created. Furthermore, this work resulted to the most extensive database of combined archaeobotanical and charcoal evidence for olive and grape in south Europe. WP3: the introduction of the olive and vine and their rapidly ascribed importance in fields such as their use in ritual ceremonies, their role in changing feasting practices and social gatherings, and their value as trade commodities, shaped and altered the social character of the societies of Europe at a fundamental level. This WP produced a robust dataset covering a broad geographical area, detecting patterns of production and change. The WP has detected the early production of wine and olive oil in Europe and their transformation from small scale commodities to their production in an industrial scale. WP4: modern and ancient DNA studies have previously been successfully employed in the study of the spread and movements of cereals across Eurasia. The value of the combination of ancient and modern DNA studies on the vine and the olive undertaken for this WP has now allowed the localised detection of earlier temporal and spatial occurrences of species and their biodiversity, their domestication centres, their migrations and the routes involved in the process. When final results of the aDNA analysis become available, it will now be possible to investigate whether a separate domestication event happened in Europe, unconnected with domestication in southwest Asia.

Expected final results and their potential impact and use: Although some aDNA analyses are still awaited, the final results can be summarised as follows: 1) The project has shown that the olive and the vine played a significant role in the agricultural regimes of the 3rd millennium BC in Greece and Cyprus. It is now clear that olives and vines were intensively cultivated at this time, and it seems likely that the roots of this activity go back to the 4th millennium BC. This result is significant as it shows that the transformative role of these plants in prehistoric societies was already part of everyday life in the third millennium. 2) The project has significantly expanded the available dataset for addressing these questions. Not only evidence for grape and olive seeds, but the evidence from charcoal has been considered simultaneously, as well as evidence from residue analysis, and the study of material culture associated with the grape and wine, and the olive and olive oil. 3) Beyond intensive cultivation and use, the production of secondary products in the form of wine and olive oil has been comprehensively demonstrated. Olive oil, in particular, can now be regarded as a staple of the 3rd millennium economy. Their role in social practice, especially in feasting or other social or ritual gatherings, has now been comprehensively documented. 4) The final result will concern the origins of the domestication process: aDNA results, available shortly, will confirm whether domestic species were deliberately imported, or whether domestication occurred as a result of cultivation at multiple sites. In terms of impact, the project output in spoken and written form has so far been considerable, and much more will appear over the course of the next two to three years. A key article in Antiquity in 2013 by the fellow (‘Distinguishing exploitation, cultivation, production and domestication: the olive in the 3rd millennium Aegean’) has already reset the terms of this ongoing debate, and the final published results, including a monograph, will finally settle the questions of the domestication, cultivation and use of the vine and the grape, and the first production and role of wine and olive oil.

Related information

Reported by

United Kingdom
Follow us on: RSS Facebook Twitter YouTube Managed by the EU Publications Office Top