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Pollen and macrofossils attributable to Fagopyrum in western Eurasia prior to the Late Medieval: An intercontinental mystery

de Klerk, Pim, Couwenberg, John, Joosten, Hans
Palaeogeography, palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology 2015 v.440 pp. 1-21
Fagopyrum esculentum, Oxygonum, buckwheat, glaciation, pollen, pollen rain, trade, vegetation, weeds, Africa, Eurasia
The widespread perception that buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum and F. tataricum) did not occur in western Eurasia prior to the Late Medieval is challenged by numerous pollen finds. We traced some 240 localities from the area with pollen or macrofossils attributed to Fagopyrum in (often much) earlier time-slices. This paper evaluates various explanations for these finds within the context of palaecological methods, vegetation history, and cultural development. The clear morphological characteristics make large-scale misidentification of the pollen unlikely. Although some records are suspect, contamination is improbable for the vast majority of the pollen diagrams. Also long-distance transport of pollen of Fagopyrum snowdenii or Oxygonum from Africa seems unlikely, as the pollen rain of that continent hardly contains that pollen. The option that Fagopyrum was present in western Eurasia already much earlier than the Late Medieval must therefore be seriously considered. Cultivated species may have reached the area by trade between the Mediterranean and eastern Chinese realms, which was regular since 2000 BCE. As the low pollen values argue against large scale cultivation, the taxon may merely have occurred as a weed, or its pollen was transported with other products and subsequently re-emitted. The pervasive notion that buckwheat was cultivated on large scale by the Scythians in the Ukrainian realm since 800 BCE is highly ambiguous and probably wrong. There are some indications that wild Fagopyrum or a related taxon may have occurred widespread in Eurasia during the Pleistocene glaciations and the early/middle Holocene, i.e. predating 2000 BCE.