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“Fresh from the Oven”: experiments on Triticum spelta and a protocol for carbonising specimens for archaeobotanical comparison collections

Berihuete-Azorín, Marian, Stika, Hans-Peter, Bourliva, Anna, Papadopoulou, Lambrini, Valamoti, Soultana-Maria
Journal of archaeological science: Reports 2019 v.26 pp. 101865
Triticum aestivum subsp. spelta, archaeobotany, grain foods, ovens, scanning electron microscopy, small cereal grains
Charring is the most common preservation state of plant remains retrieved at archaeological sites. Therefore, archaeobotanists have often performed charring experiments mainly aimed to produce comparative materials and to better understand the various processes affecting the morphology and composition of archaeobotanical assemblages. In this paper, and based on previous works, we develop a laboratory protocol which standardizes the charring process and proposes how to perform charring experiments with a step-by-step description of the methodology. Our observations have focused on ripe Triticum spelta, a species seldom approached by former experiments, both in its ripe and unripe and roasted form, known as Grünkern. We explore the parameters that affect the production of comparative material which preserves the features closest to the non-charred individuals both as regards overall shape and external morphology but also as regards the effects of charring on the internal morphology of the cereal grains examined with the aid of Scanning Electron Microscopy. Based on our own experience and on which information we missed when performing our experiments, we describe here the work that we carried out with the aims of exploring the effects of charring on cereal grain structure, but simultaneously of providing a protocol useful for charring experiments, needed for the standardization of similar work. This standardization is needed in order to achieve meaningful comparisons of results when producing charred material. Being applicable to other experiments and laboratories, it will enable in the future a more reliable exploration and interpretation of ancient cereal foods.