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Where are the cereals? Contribution of phytolith analysis to the study of subsistence economy at the Trypillia site Maidanetske (ca. 3900-3650 BCE), central Ukraine

Dal Corso, Marta, Out, Welmoed A., Ohlrau, René, Hofmann, Robert, Dreibrodt, Stefan, Videiko, Mikhail, Müller, Johannes, Kirleis, Wiebke
Journal of arid environments 2018 v.157 pp. 137-148
archaeobotany, buildings, cereal byproducts, chaff, dry environmental conditions, floors, grains, grasses, grinding, phytoliths, population dynamics, soil sequences, steppes, straw, Ukraine
Phytolith analysis has been applied in one of the extraordinary Trypillia “mega-site” in central Ukraine. The site Maidanetske, dated to ca. 3900–3650 BCE, is composed of ca. 3000 houses, which were built of earth-based architecture. As these mega-sites were extremely large, their relatively short duration and their population dynamics are under debate. In this study, the focus is set on the detection of daily household activities, including cereal processing. Archaeological contexts have been sampled for phytoliths inside and outside houses, including daub fragments, grinding stones, vessels, floor surfaces and a pit filling. Phytolith records from layers above and below the archaeological contexts were also analysed. The results indicate that cereal by-products such as chaff from pooid cereals, were in use for specific purposes like daub tempering for house building. Thus cereals were a relevant part of the site subsistence economy despite the scarce preservation of archaeobotanical macro-remains. While chaff and straw suggest on-site processing of cereals, the location of processing is unclear. Since house floors and cultural layers are poorer in chaff phytoliths than expected, the future analysis of other special buildings for instance might help to detect specialised areas of processing apart from houses. Besides cereals the phytolith record attests also the presence of wild grasses with probable indication of steppe grassland components. Further investigation of soil sequences outside the site and comparison with modern reference material in future will help to assess the development of the grassland vegetation through time.