forest fire


Dr. Simone Riehl

Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte
Arbeitsbereich Archäbotanik
Schloss Hohentübingen
72070 Tübingen
Tel.: +49(0)7071 2978915
Fax.: +49(0)7071 295714

Studies in prehistory and geology at the University of Tübingen, studies in archaeobotany at the Institute of Botany at Basel (Switzerland) and the Department of Prehsitory and Archaeology at Sheffield (UK).

Masters Thesis 1993: Plant remains from a lake side settlement at Lake Constance (Wangen)

Fruits and seeds from a more than 5000 years old lake side village were analysed in respect to the potential information on sea level changes during the settlement period. The presence of different species of the Characeae family (submerged algae) and other taxa of habitats close to waters signalised cyclic deviation of the eutrophic degree.
The crop spectrum shows close parallels to those in settlements of the same age in the Zürichsee region (Switzerland).

back to homepage

oospore of the genus Chara


Crops from an oppidum

Iron Age plant remains from colluvial sediments of the oppidum Bramefan (France) only represented a narrow species spectrum according to their taphonomic origin. Barley and bitter vetch were dominant, but also small numbers of lentil, spelta and naked wheat were present. Wild plants occurred only with few remains due to bad preservation (Riehl 2000a).


Bearberries from the Upper Palaeolithic Hohlefels Cave (southern Germany)

The relative importance of wild plant resources in hunter-gatherer groups is often difficult to evaluate. The identification of parenchyma or epidermal fragments is rarely possible without electron microscopic equipment and there are only few experts capable to identify these remains.

Samples from Upper Aurignacien layers in the Hohlefels cave contained numerous fragments of epidermal tissue, attached to each other in lamina. They were identified as Arctostaphylos (bearberry) in the herbarium of the Botanical Institute (University of Tübingen).
The bearberry plant is a small shrub, which today is distributed in the northern hemisphere, mainly in hilly or mountainous regions. The berries taste astringently but are rich in vitamins. Considering the potential use in prehistory, it has to be noticed that the leaves have been traditionally used for tanning leather, and for medicinal purposes in Siberia.
An enormous potential in the evaluation of the use of resources by preneolithic groups is supplied by ethnobotanical data.

epidermis of Arctostaphylos

PhD 1998: ‚Bronze Age Environment and Economy in the Troad: The Archaeobotany of Kumtepe and Troy‘

sea coast in the Troad

The geographical position of the Troad between the Black Sea region, the Aegean and the prehistoric settlements of Inner Anatolia, defines it as a focal point of cultural and economic relations between these regions.

The archaeobotanical investigation of the Bronze Age environment and economy is based on the study of ca. 270000 seed remains, belonging to 186 species of 43 plant families. In three years of field work (1993-1995) 38 samples were studied from Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age levels at Kumtepe, and 325 samples from Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age levels at Troy. The overall sequence offers a rich dataset for the study of agricultural economy and impact of humans on the environment over a span of approximately 3800 years.

Increasing human influence is evident from Kumtepe B. The resulting scarcity of wood forced the use of dung for fuel, but this could not stop heavy soil erosion processes occurring at least from Late Bronze Age Troy onwards.
Changes in the course of the Bronze Age occurred not solely in the range and relative proportions of crop species and the associated weed spectra, but also in the locations of fields for various reasons. The diversity in crops and the exploitation of a new range of species increased from the Neolithic to Late Bronze Age, and different cultivation methods such as polycropping during Middle Bronze Age Troy, and changing intensity in field management during different periods, determined the development of agriculture in the Troad (Riehl 1999a and 1999b).

back to homepage

Early Bronze Age Economy at Hirbet-ez Zeraqon / Jordan

Sediment samples from the Early Bronze Age settlement Hirbet ez-Zeraqon, ca. 8 ha in size, were analysed for seed remains since 1996 in the archaeobotanical laboratory of the University of Tübingen. The aim was an evaluation of the economic and ecological environment of the settlement, and particularly the role of plant production in the workaday routine of the inhabitants of a region with relatively low yearly mean precipitation and springs in the valley only with difficulty to reach. Beside this the taphonomic situation was included in the interpretation of the results as far as possible. The 159 samples from two parts of the settlement (upper and lower city) reflect a rather clear picture of the economic situation shortly before the abandonment of the town, which is also evident from the general lack of stored crops. The crop spectrum at Zeraqon shows strong parallels to those of other settlements of the same age in the region:


Emmer, barley and lentil are the main crops. Olive stones belong to the most frequent remains at Zeraqon, but in all are present only in small numbers. Most of theses stones are undamaged and suggest the consumption of the whole fruit, although oil production cannot be excluded.
Among the 82 species of wild plants the small Fabaceae were represented by a particularly broad spectrum and very high counts. Near the altar of the upper city the small seeded grasses occurred in large quantities and self-contained contexts. They were interpreted as remains of dung or entrails from animal sacrifices, which can be supported by the zooarchaeological results (Riehl in prep. for 2001).

back to homepage


Animal husbandry and ecology at Tell el‘Abd (Syria)

goat/sheep pellets

At the Early Bronze Age archaeological site Tell el’Abd large quantities of goat or sheep pellets were found, which are meanwhile objects often considered in archaeobotanical research for their potential in landscape reconstruction. Also the interdependence of animal and plant husbandry, which determined the development of agriculture in the Old World can be evaluated for arid regions, where the scarcity in wood for fuel is traditionally compensated by dung cake production. In some sites animal dung represents the main source for carbonised plant remains. If seeds are preserved in the coprolites, they inform about the former landscape and preferred places for grazing and browsing. The taphonomy in such contexts is mainly restricted to feed selection by man (location of browsing places, additional feeding of crops or their processing by-products), animal (preferences for specific plants), and differing preservability of the seeds during digestion. The seeds in the pellets from Tell el’Abd are mainly members of the open vegetation or weeds. The dominant remains are a Rumex (dock) and a Heliotropium (heliotrope) species.

back to homepage


Bronze Age economy at Emar (Syria)

granary weevil

Until now only seven sediment samples from mainly Early Bronze Age levels were taken at Emar in the 1999 campaign, and analysed for botanical macroremains. With this very small amount of samples it had to be ascertained if further investigation should be conducted at this site in the following years. Very rich in remains was an ash layer in the northern part of the temple. Rachis remains of two-rowed barley (Hordeum distichum) were very numerous. Beside these also some grains of the crop were found. Large-seeded grasses, which may have grown as cereal weeds appeared in high counts. The spectrum of other wild species was also very broad.

Considering the find of the granary weevil Sitophilus granarius (Curculionidae), which is widely distributed and occurred in some other Near Eastern archaeological sites, it would be of interest to detect its frequency in the crops of prehistoric Emar. The context the described remains derive from, was archaeologically interpreted as a tannur, in which also some goat/sheep pellets were found. In all, the finds may represent burnt crop by-products and/or dung remains. Samples from other possible tannurs show a similar composition and differ from other samples by their high counts in rachis remains and the presence of dung pellets (Riehl in press, 2001).

back to homepage


Middle Bronze Age economy and ecology in northern Syria: Tell Mozan

Mozan village

Archaeobotanical sampling of Middle Bronze Age contexts in the upper city of Tell Mozan, which measures about 30 ha, is conducted since 1999. The lower city, which reached already about 2500 BC its maximum extension of 130 ha, was not excavated systematically, and therefore no archaeobotanical samples were taken from this part of the settlement until now. The importance of Tell Mozan as trade and communication network in the catchment basin of the river Khabur determines the archaeological and archaeobotanical research focus on economic aspects in this metropolis.
First results show that barley played an important role in agricultural subsistence. But also Emmer seems to have been intensively cultivated as demonstrated by large amounts of chaff remains. Free-threshing wheat is also present, whereas only few finds of Einkorn make its cultivation questionable.

Pulses also occurred in small numbers. Among these bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia) is dominant, followed by lentil. Horticulture cannot be proved at the moment. Rare finds of fig and grape seeds could also derive from fruits collected from wild trees.
The comparison of the spectrum of wild species in prehistoric times and today, supports the hypothesis that water supply during Middle Bronze Age must have been better than today. The prehistoric flora of wild species probably benefited from the Khabur floodings or alternatively from irrigation practised by the prehsitoric inhabitants (Riehl 2000b).

back to homepage


Riehl, S. (1998). Interdisziplinarität - nur eine Utopie ? Beobachtungen aus archäobotanischer Sicht. Archäologische Informationen 21(1): 21 - 26.

Riehl, S. (1999a). Bronze Age environment and economy in the Troad: the archaeobotany of Kumtepe and Troy. BioArchaeologica 2. Mo-Vince-Verlag Tübingen. price 28 EURO

Riehl, S. (1999b). Archäobotanik in der Troas. Studia Troica 9, 367-409.

Riehl, S. (2000a). Archäobotanische Untersuchung einiger Proben aus der Grabungskampagne 1994, in: Bofinger, J. et al. (Hrsg.), Das Oppidum von Bramefan. 119 - 124.

Riehl, S. (2000b). Erste Ergebnisse der archäobotanischen Untersuchungen in der zentralen Oberstadt von Tall Mozan/Urkesh. Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft zu Berlin 132: 229 - 238.

Riehl, S. (2001). Vorbericht der archäobotanischen Bestandsaufnahme in Emar. Baghdader Mitteilungen 32: 157 - 172, Taf.1 -2.

Riehl, S. (in prep. for 2001). Hirbet ez-Zeraqon: Früchte und Samen der frühbronzezeitlichen Ober- und Unterstadt. In: Ibrahim, M.M., Mittmann, S., Deutsch-jordanische Ausgrabungen in Hirbet ez-Zeraqon 1984-1994. Endberichte, Band I.

Antanaitis, I., Riehl, S., Kisieliene, D., Kelertas, K. 2000. The evolution of the subsistence economy and archaeobotanical research in Lithuania. Lietuvos Archeologija 19: 47 - 67.

24.05.2003 verantwortlich Simone Riehl