Thursday, 6 November 2014

Acorns in archaeology

In my last post I talked about Oaks and how useful they were and are to people. The last thing that I said in my last post is that acorns had been eaten by humans since at least late Paleolithic times right up to modern times, and that I would write about acorns and acorn eaters in my next few posts. In this post I will write about archaeological evidence we have for human consumption of acorns during the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Copper age, Bronze age and Iron age. I hope you find the data presented in this post as eye opening as I did find it, and that you will start seeing acorns in a completely different light from now on.  



Acorns are usually eaten roasted, and during roasting the thin-walled shells are carbonised and destroyed, which makes the macro particle acorn detection in the archaeological remains very difficult. On dry sites wind would then disperse the acorn ash and make it even more difficult to detect. On wet sites we have another problem and that is that like for most other starch rich seeds, the preservation of acorns in waterlogged conditions is not very good. Acorns only preserve well once charred because the elemental carbon of charcoal is not attacked by chemical or biological processes in sediments. But as I said already, when they are fragmented during or after charring, it can be hard to identify them as the bits get scattered. In Eastern North America where archaeobotanical finds of acorns are abundant, the majority of finds consist of fragments of acorn shell of 2mm or less. This might indicate that in Europe most of the evidence of acorn use may have been overlooked or was not preserved. Because of the absence of macro remains we have to rely on micro remains and they are not easy to detect. To detect micro remains of food plants you need to use flotation technique and microscope analysis. At the submerged Mesolithic site of Tybrind Vig in Denmark which is known for its excellent preservation conditions, acorn use has only been attested by the identification of small fragments of acorn using a scanning electron microscope. The same happened at the sites of Cova Fosca and Roc de Migdia in Spain, which had no previous evidence of acorns, and where the presence of acorn parenchyma was attested only by using a scanning electron microscope. However both these techniques are expensive and require well equipped archaeobotanical laboratories. Because of this there are significant national and regional differences in the intensity of archaeobotanical research, resulting in acorn traces being missed among the archaeological material and in an underestimation of the use of acorns as a source of human nutrition in the past.

This is the main reason why hazelnuts are usually the most frequently found collected plants on archaeological sites. Hazelnut are eaten raw, where the husk is broken and discarded so we have a chance to find big fragments close together. Also hazelnut husks are far more durable than acorn ones. Another reason why acorns are not detected in larger quantities on archaeological sites is because a lot of the acorn processing is usually undertaken completely or partially off site in the actual oak groves, on river edges, collective grinding stone.... which all adds to the difficulty of detecting acorns among the food remains.

Even with all these difficulties in detecting acorns, there is enough archaeological evidence that shows that acorns were  much more important food source than most people, including most archaeologists think. The number of acorn finds on archaeological sites is still high. At several Mesolithic sites in Europe, acorns are only outnumbered by hazelnuts, the husks of which are far more durable. Acorns are the most frequently found wild fruits at protohistoric archaeological sites in France. In Spain, acorns are third (after wheat and barley) in terms of frequency of occurrence among archaeobotanical remains, thus even more frequent than legumes such as peas and lentils.

The fact that acorns are no longer considered as being edible is also making it likely that archaeologists would not even look for them when they are looking for human food traces. Also when found on archaeological sites acorns are likely to be misunderstood and misinterpreted as accidental blow in or as animal food. But ethnographic and historical evidence is telling us that in some parts of the world acorns were used as human food until very recently.

During the pre-agricultural period acorns were an important plant food resource for hunter-gatherers in Europe. Archaeological evidence supports the conclusion that acorns have always been an attractive food resource within various resource strategies, including agrarian societies. In prehistoric agricultural communities, acorns may have played a role as food substitute or reserve for bad times, reserved for emergencies, for example when cereal agriculture had failed.

Within the context of agricultural sites acorns are usually located close to fireplaces and in furnaces. Frequently they are accompanied by other crops. In addition, acorns are common finds in vessels and storage pits. They are often shelled and mixed with cereals. Acorns also occur in shallow pits and are also found unshelled. Acorns are found in graves, and their appearance there as sacrificial offering cannot be discounted.

The high number of prehistoric sites across oak growing regions of the Northern Hemisphere where acorns have been found and the large number of acorns recovered from some of these sites are confirming that acorns have been one of the most important food sources for humans in the oak growing regions of the Northern Hemisphere since Paleolithic times.

I will here present the list of all the cultures on whose sites acorns were found among food remains. The list is far from being definitive, and I would appreciate any information about sites that I have missed. But as far as I know this is the most comprehensive list of acorn finds in archaeological material freely available in English on the Internet. And the list reads like "who's who" of the Northern Hemisphere ancient history, containing all the most advanced and important cultures of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Copper age, Bronze age and Iron age. I believe that as the archaeobotanical research intensifies, we will see more and more evidence of the use of acorns as food. But I believe that even this much is enough to prove the point. All the references to the original documents containing data about acorns in archaeological sites are listed at the end of the post with clickable links. 

I will present the data according to the region. I decided to do that because a lot of the archaeological sites had been occupied over thousands of years and it would be impossible to put them into any one time period. Also presenting the archaeological data according to the region shows that people from certain areas liked eating acorns more than people from other areas and kept eating them over the period of thousands of years spanning multiple cultures. Which opens a question whether acorn eating is linked to a particular tribal of genetic populations.

It is also very interesting that I could not find any data for acorns being found on the sites of the Yamna culture and Cucuteni Trypillian cultre. Why? Did I just miss the available data or were these two cultures different from the rest of the Old European cultures? Is it because these two cultures were the true Steppe cultures as opposed to all the other European cultures which were forest cultures? 
I also could not find any data for acorns being found on the sites in Britain and Ireland. Again did I just miss the available data or are Britain and Ireland in some way different from the rest of Europe? 
I would greatly appreciate any help in answering these two questions. 

Near East

The earliest proof we have that acorns were used as human food are found in middle east at the Gesher Benot Yaaqov Paleolithic site [1].


Gesher Benot Yaaqov is located on the shores of the paleo lake Hula in the northern Jordan Valley in the Dead Sea Rift. The site was used by humans  for about 100,000 years until 790,000 BC. Fourteen archaeological horizons indicate that Acheulian humans repeatedly occupied the lake margins, where they skillfully produced stone tools, systematically butchered and exploited animals, gathered plant food, and controlled fire. The nut remains found in Gesher Benot Ya’aqov site and dated to about 750 000 BC, are mostly those of Atlantic pistachio, acorns of Mt. Tabor Oak, and wild almonds. They are thought to have been consumed by humans.

Kebara cave is a limestone cave situated at 60 - 65 metres ASL on the western escarpment of the Carmel Range, in the Ramat Hanadiv preserve of Zichron Yaakov.


The cave was inhabited between 60,000 - 48,000 BC. Acorns, pistachios and legumes were found in Middle Paleolithic layers [2] dated to about 60 000 BC - 40 000 BC. Kebara cave was at that time occupied by Neanderthals which shows that they too used acorns as food.

We see that people were still eating acorns at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum. Acorns, legumes and several other plants were reported [3] at Ohalo II site in Israel. Ohalo is an archaeological site in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee inhabited by hunter gatherers around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, dated to about 17,400 BC. Ohalo is one of the best preserved hunter-gatherer archaeological sites of that period, and is extremely significant because of the numerous well preserved fruit, nut, acorn and cereal grain remains as well as grinding stones [4], which are confirming that plant and particularly starch food played a significant part of the Paleolithic people's diet.

Acorns were next found at the sites of the Natufian culture [5]. The Natufian culture was an Epipaleolithic culture that existed from 13,000 to 9,800 BC. It was unusual in that it was sedentary, or semi-sedentary, before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufian communities are possibly the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements of the region. There is some evidence for the deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye, by the Natufian culture, at the Tell Abu Hureyra site, the site for earliest evidence of agriculture in the world. Generally, though, Natufians made use of wild cereals. Tools for food acquisition, such as sickles, and food processors, such as mortars, bowls, and pestles, are interpreted as evidence for harvesting and processing wild cereals and legumes. But  mortars, bowls, and pestles could also have been used for grinding, storing and eating of acorns.



The few available seeds support the contention that pulses, cereals, almonds, acorns, and other fruits were gathered.

Trees yielding hard-shell fruits were part of the former landscape of the Southern Levant. Among these, oaks were one of the most prominent features of the Mediterranean woodlands, covering large parts of the landscape. Nevertheless, their possible importance as a food source in past economies of the Southern Levant has been underestimated in comparison to other plant resources. Furthermore, the appearance of stone pounding and grinding tools (frequently mentioned in ethnographic accounts as acorn processing tools) in the Epipalaeolithic and the Early Neolithic has been mostly seen as associated with cereal processing and the transition to agriculture based economies. But there is a strong suggestion that they were indeed used for processing of acorns into flour. [10]

In Mesolithic villages from the Zagros mountains which form the border between Iran and Iraq, dated to 9000 BC, tools used in the preparation of starch plant food, such as U-shaped mortars and pestles, bone sickle-hafts (but no blades with a gloss along the edge) were found. [11] In the absence of any carbonised grains it is, however, impossible to say whether wild cereals were reaped and processed in grinding stones, or whether other foods such as acorns was processed, considering how abundant acorns were in the area.  The find, in the Shanidar cave, of fragments of matting or basketry, the oldest yet known, suggests that collecting baskets may have been used. [12]

The Upper Tigris Valley, in the Anatolian part of the Fertile Crescent, has indisputable significance for the early Neolithic in terms of the opportunities it provided for the permanent settlement of human communities. One of these settlements is Körtik Tepe, located in the province of Diyarbakir, near Pinarbasi, at the hamlet of the village called Agil, close to where the Batman Creek joins the Tigris. [78]


Archaeological excavations in the mound commenced in 2000 and are still ongoing. The archaeological data demonstrate that the Upper Tigris Valley was one of the primary regions of the Near East for the establishment of the earliest permanent settlements. In contrast to the communities leading a nomadic lifestyle, in Körtik Tepe food production technologies were developed and fishing was a common activity. There is also evidence for weaving and architectural units were clearly built for the purpose of storing food. The site is famous for its stone ware made from chlorite stone. [79]



Taking the evidence from the different studies altogether, it has been suggested that the people of Körtik Tepe used a wide spectrum of freshwater animals and hygrophilous plants for their subsistence, personal adornments, and equipment. A mix of hunted large and small animals and wild plants seems to have provided the main calorific input. The results corroborate the findings of other contemporaneous sites where an opportunistic use of plants and animals could be demonstrated. So it is suggested that the intensive, probably year-round permanent use of the site is not due to the intensive use or even cultivation of cereals. Rather, it seems that highly valued and/or calorie-rich resources such as acorns, pistachios, hackberry, and probably almonds, as well as easy to catch small animals like tortoises or fish, contributed to the diet. The rich and diversified environment made the site attractive for a permanent settlement. A specialization on cereals could not be observed so far. The interpretation of plant remains has long been biased by our modern perspective, where the focus on cereals as one of the basic nutritional elements has been projected onto the past. [80]



Jarmo is an archaeological site located in northern Iraq on the foothills of Zagros Mountains east of Kirkuk city. Jarmo site represents something new in the prehistory of Iraq: a fully sedentary agricultural village growing (and not merely reaping) emmer wheat, still morphologically close to the wild form, but already accompanied by Einkorn wheat, as well as hulled two row barley (also close to the wild ancestor) at a date c. 6500 BC. Lentils, field peas, blue vetchling were also grown and pistachios and acorns were still collected for their fat contents. Among the animals, goat and dog  and perhaps pig were domesticated, but not sheep, or cattle, which were hunted together with gazelle and wild boar. Snails still formed part of the diet. [11]

In Anatolia Catal Huyuk was a neolithic city site covering 32 acres and dated to between 6700—5700 BC, which may have housed a population of ten thousand people. 



The economy of this vast site, was based on hunting, advanced agriculture, stock-breeding and probably trade. Sheep, goat and dog were domestic, but the importance of hunting was not thereby diminished. Wild cattle, wild sheep, onager, half-ass, red, roe and fallow deer, ibex, wild boar, bear, hare, leopards,2 and various birds, such as black crane, were hunted, but fishing in the river was less important. Agriculture had made tremendous strides forward during the seventh millennium and the rich deposits of level VI yield three forms of wheat (emmer, einkorn and bread wheat), two forms of barley (naked six-row barley and two-row barley), two sorts of peas, lentils, bitter vetch, crucifers grown for vegetable oil, as well as apple, almonds, hack berry, juniper berries, acorns, pistachio, imported from the hills. [11] This is the most varied diet known from any Near Eastern neolithic site. The archeobotany report published in 1999 says that acorn cup and cotyledon fragments were also identified sparsely, but regularly, in the samples. [13]

At the late Neolithic settlement at Hacilar IX—VI, some two hundred miles farther west from Catalhuyuk, dated to 5700 BC. we find Late Neolithic arrivals, either people from Catalhuyuk or from the Pisidian lake district, which during the previous period had shown some sort of western variant of the Catalhuyuk culture. The economy of the settlement is mainly agricultural and a continuation of that of Catal Huyuk: emmer, einkorn, bread wheat, naked six-row barley, two sorts of peas, lentils, and also chick-peas, as well as acorns, hack berries, etc. Chert blades are set in curved antler-sickles. Hunting had declined, sheep and goat are probably domesticated, cattle and pig appear, whether or not domesticated; the dog is known. [11]

Viticulture may well have begun either near the Caspian or in a region including Colchis, where at two sites dating to the fourth millennium BC the earliest material evidence has been found, in the form of grape-pips. They were found in accumulations associated with stores of chestnuts, hazelnuts and acorns, these too being for food, at the same sites. These accumulations could indeed have been the outcome of food-gathering rather than of harvesting of cultivated vines [8].

Recent archaeobotanical research from third to second millennium BC Tell Mozan in the Upper Khabur Area, NE Syria, shows a dominating presence of deciduous oak charcoal in most of the samples. Therefore oak park woodland probably had a more southwards distribution during the Early Bronze Age than today. That oak was probably locally present is supported through the find of charcoal from small branches and acorns [9].

Africa

The earliest evidence of acorn use as food in North Afica is found in the archaeological sites belonging to the upper paleolithic people of Taforalt caves, Morocco, dated to 12,000 BC.


The caves were occupied by people of the Oranian culture which live there during the African Humid Period also known as green Sahara, when the north Africa was a lush green land of forests and grasslands.  People of this culture had caries in 51% of adult teeth, a frequency comparable to those of early farmers. [14 ]This is attributed to the very high levels of nut consumption, particularly acorns but also pine nuts, juniper berries, pistachios and wild oats. The number of acorn remains found is so large that the archaeologists had to conclude that they were used as year-long staple. Taforalt people had grinding stones, which they used to process some of these nuts, most likely the acorns, whose consumption as bread has been documented since antiquity.

Europe

Iberia

In Europe we find the earliest traces of acorn use in Gravettian culture, a paleolithic people who also left behind spectacular cave paintings, evidence of burial and distinctive stone tools. This is based on the new investigations of an ancient stone recovered in a cave called Grotta Paglicci in Puglia, in southern Italy. [83]


Among many stone tools, the archaeologists have found a stone, which is "pale brown and not much bigger than a hand, " and which was clearly used as a combination pestle and grinder, says Marta Mariotti Lippi, a botany professor at the University of Florence in Italy, who led the research team. It dates back some 32,000 years, she says, providing the earliest evidence of food processing in Europe.



"There are many other grinding tools, but this is the oldest," she says.

She says these hunter-gatherers used the rounded end of the stone to bash seeds against another rock to break them up. The flat surface of the stone shows the kind of wear that would be produced by grinding the broken seeds into flour.

The stone came to light in June 1989, and although well enough studied at the time, two years ago a new team started a fresh study of material from the cave with the latest modern methods.


The researchers sealed the stone in plastic to preserve it for future research. But they left exposed small patches that they washed with a gentle stream of water to loosen debris. In the water were hundreds of starch granules of five main types. The most plentiful, says Mariotti Lippi, were from oat seeds, almost certainly Avena barbata, a wild species still common across much of Europe. The stone also processed other edible plants, including acorns and relatives of millet.


The second oldest proof of the use of acorns as food in Europe is found in late Paleolithic Magdalenian sites of northern Iberia. The Magdalenian culture is one of the later cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe, dating from around 15,000 to 10,000 BC whose remains are found in France and Spain.



Much of Iberia, especially Mediterranean Spain and Portugal, never experienced dramatically cold extremes except in mountain zones. Because of this a high degree of plant exploitation continued in this part of Europe during the Last glacial maximum. At the Cantabrian Magdalenian site El Juyo, dated to the period 13,988 - 15,179 BC, where climatic and environmental conditions were cooler and the vegetation during the Last Glacial Maximum was less varied, plant macro fossil remains from 21 families and 51 genera were found. These included acorn and hazelnut fragments, berry pits, grass seeds and aquatic plants. Magdalenian and Epipaleolithic levels of Nerja caves, dated to 12 000 BC, also contain acorns and wild olive pits. [15] The food remains from the Nerja cave contain abundant fish remains. This is showing us that by later Magdalenian times there is a dramatic increase in the consumption of aquatic resources. Their number of the remains of the aquatic animals is five times greater than that of rabbits in the Magdalenian, but, in the Preboreal levels, fish outnumber rabbits 10 to 1 and include seals which are actually depicted on the walls of the cave.


The collection of sea and land mollusks as well as pine nuts and acorns also is attested to in the Early Mesolithic levels, even if the bulk of food supplies continued to be represented by the meat of red deer and ibex, as in the preceding later Magdalenian.

The Azilian culture is an Epipaleolithic culture which existed in northern Spain and southern France around 8,000 BC.  It succeeded the Magdalenian culture in the same area, and archaeologists even think the Azilian culture could be the tail end of the Magdalenian culture as the warming climate brought about changes in human behaviour in the area. The effects of melting ice sheets would have diminished the food supply and probably impoverished the previously well-fed Magdalenian manufacturers. Acorns, haws, sloes, hazel-nuts, chestnuts, cherries, prunes and walnuts were discovered at the Le Mas d'Azil cave together with a handful of barley-seeds.


In Catalunya at Cingle Vermell, dated to 7,760 BC, numerous remains of hazelnuts, acorns, pine nuts, chestnuts and wild fruits have been recovered. [15]


In the Basque country of Spain, Mesolithic and Neolithic wild plant gathering has also been reported. In several sites hazelnuts, acorns and wild tree fruits were common in both periods. One of the most famous sites from Basque country is Epipaleolithic site in València known as La Sarga.


At La Sarga , a painted rock art scene shows several figures collecting acorns or hazelnuts as they fall from the tree.


Pine nuts, acorns and chestnuts were reported at Cova Fosca dated to 7,460 BC. [18]

The archaeobotanical material obtained from 24 sites from the Neolithic period (5400–2300 cal BC) in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula was recently analized. Among dry sites, several types of context were evaluated: dwelling areas, hearths, roasting pits and byres. Material was also analysed from a waterlogged cultural layer of one early Neolithic lakeshore site, La Draga. Acorns, hazelnuts, mastic fruits and wild grapes were among the most frequently encountered fruits and seeds. Larger amounts of charred remains of certain wild fruits like acorns and hazelnuts found in mountain areas are highlighted as potential evidence of the regular practise of roasting, potentially indicating regional traditions. [70]

La Draga is the only lake-dwelling site that is known in the Iberian Peninsula.


The main interest of the site is the extraordinary preservation of plant remains both in charred and waterlogged states. The site was occupied at least twice between 5300 and 5000 BC by people of Carded Ware Culture. The first phase of occupation contains remains of cereals, mainly wheat, poppy, and many collected wild plants such as acorns, blackberries and wild grape. Remains of cultivated legumes were not found. [44]


In Portugal, carbonised acorns were reported at the Neolithic site of Ameal, dated to 3500 BC. A concentrations of acorns is reported at the Copper Age site Vila Nova de São Pedro dated to 2600 to 1300 BC.

At the Bronze Age settlement at Moncín in north-east Spain, dated to 2600 - 1300 BC, the plant economy was dominated by wheat and barley, with a small contribution from edible wild plants and fruits. Lentils were present, but only rarely. Flax was also found, but whether cultivated or not is not known. The sweet acorns from the Mediterranean holm-oak, were common and they may also have been mixed with wheat for bread. [55]

The Castro culture is the Celtic culture of the northwestern regions of the Iberian Peninsula (present-day northern Portugal and the Spanish regions of Galicia, western Asturias and north western León). It existed from the end of the Bronze Age (c. 9th century BC) until it was subsumed by Roman culture (c. 1st century BC).


Using three main type of tools, ploughs, sickles and hoes, together with axes for woodcutting, the Castro inhabitants grew a number of cereals: (wheat, millet, possibly also rye) for baking bread, as well as oats, and barley which they also used for beer production. They also grew beans, peas and cabbage, and flax for fabric and clothes production; other vegetables where collected: nettle, watercress. Large quantities of acorns have been found hoarded in most hill-forts, and they were used  for bread production once toasted and crushed in granite stone mills.

Acorns were a staple food in Iberia during late Bronze age as shown by chared acorn remains found in Santinha and and S. Juliao sites in the Cávado Basin dated to the 10th century BC. [63]

Italy

The Grotta dell’Uzzo cave is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Sicily. The earliest human habitaion layers in the cave were dated to 8000 BC.


At the this cave, wild peas, acorns, olives, grapes and arbutus fruits were recovered.[19]

Impressive amounts of nuts, acorns, chestnuts, blackberries, wild apples, cornelian cherries, dogwood, grapes were found at Neolithic villages at old Sammardenchia and Fagnigola in Friuli and at Lugo di Romagna in Northern Italy dated to about 6050 BC. [19]

The open-air site Villandro/Villanders in Alto Adige/South Tyrol, was inhabited through Late Mesolithic (Castelnovian) dated to 5970-5680 BC all the way to Early Medieval period. The first settlers here grew Barley and naked Wheat, maybe using the surrounding environment for the collection of wild fruits like Strawberry and Elderberries. During the following occupation in the Middle Neolithic (Square-Mouthed Pottery Culture) the cereal assemblage does not change, but Emmer makes its first appearance. Meanwhile, many more wild fruits were gathered in the woodland, like Blackberries, Raspberries, Acorns and Wild Cherries. The large amount of charred Corylus wood suggests that also hazelnuts were commonly eaten in this period, but no shells were found in these layers. [36]

In the Veneto area in the 5th millennium BC we find Square Mouthed Pottery culture.


Their diet was varied. They grew cereals such as barley, emmer wheat, einkorn, naked wheat (common and/or durum/rivet wheat), and the so-called “new glume wheat”. The cultivation of spelt wheat is uncertain, as is the cultivation of millet and they only appear in the later layers from 3rd millennium BC. Flax and poppy, both species deriving from the “initial Neolithic package” coming from the Fertile Crescent, were also found. They eat a lot of oxen and sheep meat with small amount of fish and shelfish. The list of fruit species used as food is relatively extensive: wild grapes, berries of the cornelian cherry and the common dogwood, apples and pears, bladder cherries, blackberries, raspberries, haw-thorn berries, elderberries, wild plums, figs, strawberries. Starchy foods include hazelnuts which are most frequent, acorns, water chestnut and walnuts. There is limited evidence of pulses being eaten, mostly peas and lentils.[39]

In Italy the food remains found in the Bronze age sites are: pears, apples, cornelian cherries and various berries, along with hazelnuts and acorns, accompanied the usual range of grain crops and pulses. Millet appears in the Late Bronze Age, and false flax is also present. Grapes are attested regularly through the Bronze Age. At the Bronze Age site Fiavé-Carera ceramics with charred acorns inside have been found. The acorns were all peeled. [55]

In the Bronze Age settlement of Nola in Campania, southern Italy, dated to the 2000 BC many remains of three types of grains (small emmer, spelt and barley) as well as acorns and almonds were found. [19]

The analysis of archaeobotanical assemblages recovered in recent and older archaeological excavations conducted at several sites in southeastern Italy (Apani, Torre Guaceto, Rocavecchia, Melendugno, Piazza Palmieri, Monopoli, Scalo di Furno, Porto Cesareo), have revealed the importance of acorn gathering and use in Bronze Age societies. The charred acorns from Bronze Age sites examined in this study were associated with domestic fireplaces, being found next to griddles and mixed with other edible plants such as cereals, legumes and other edible tree fruits. These observations suggest they played an important part in protohistoric economies. [57]

Sardinia

The Ozieri culture (or San Michele culture) was a prehistoric pre-Nuragic culture that lived in Sardinia from c. 3200 to 2800 BC. The influence of the culture extended also to the nearby Corsica.


During Ozieri period, 3200-2500 BC, we see increase in amount of acorns being found in archaeological sites. This coincides with the period of main diffusion of evergreen oak in the Western Mediterranean, which dates precisely to the 4th and especially 3rd millennium. This is also the time period when a lot of acorns have been recovered in Corsica, and in southern France at Copper Age walled settlements, to which the northern Sardinia Monte Claro sites have commonly been compared. While the use of acorns to feed pigs is widespread in the Mediterranean, their utilisation for bread-making, though rare, was common over wide areas of Sardinia still in the 1700s, and is still known today [7].

The Nuragic civilisation was a civilization of Sardinia, lasting from the Bronze Age (18th century BC) to the 2nd century AD. The name derives from its most characteristic monuments, the nuraghe. They consist of tower-fortresses, built starting from about 1800 BC. Today some 7,000 nuraghi dot the Sardinian landscape.


At the Nuraghe Albucciu the cultural layer that corresponds to the first period in the life of the building is the richest in shards and lithics. There are many pots, some with clay disk lids with a hole in the centre, jars with a thick cord lip, carinated and flat-bottomed bowls, pans, loom weights. Among the lithics, we find numerous pestles and grinders. The hearth under the cupboard was no longer used while the large one at the centre of the room continued to be. Many burnt acorns were found around it [6].

Lake dwellings

Prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps is a series of prehistoric pile-dwelling (or stilt house) settlements in and around the Alps built from around 5000 to 500 B.C. on the edges of lakes, rivers or wetlands. 111 sites, located in Austria (5 sites), France (11 sites), Germany (18 sites), Italy (19 sites), Slovenia (2 sites), and Switzerland (56 sites).


It seems that people who lived in these pile dwellings used acorn as one of their main sources of starch. In some of the oldest lake dwellings,notably those of Germany, the only starch food consisted of hazel nuts, acorns, and the water chestnut. [40]

At the Neolithic (Cortaillod culture) and Bronze Age (La Tene culture) (4400-1570 BC.) pile dwellings of Concise-sous-Colachoz on the shore of Lake Neuchâtel (Canton of Vaud, western Switzerland), the preliminary study of cereal macro fossil remains from all the mentioned Neolithic phases show that the most important cereals were durum,naked wheat, einkorn and barley. Other cultivated plants were pea, flax and opium poppy. Additionally to the seeds, capsule fragments of opium poppy were found in the Cortaillod moyen deposits. Wild fruits which were collected as plant resources included sloe, dogwood, apple, raspberry,dewberry,blackberry, wild strawberry, rose hip, acorn, hazelnut and beechnut, among others. [37]

The oldest Umbrian settlements, such as the pile dwellings in the Lake Fimon, dating from the first half of the 5th millennium BC and belonging to the first phase of Square Mouthed Pottery Culture [41], prove that the Umbrians, when they arrived in Italy, lived chiefly by the chase, but also that they had domesticated the ox and the sheep. Agriculture, even of the rudest description,seems to have been unknown, since no cereals were found. But there were considerable stores of hazel nuts, of water chestnuts, and of acorns, some of which had been already roasted for food. The remains of the settlement in the Lake of Fimon are specially instructive, as it must have been founded very soon after the Umbrians arrived in Italy, and was destroyed before they had passed from the pastoral to the agricultural stage. There are two successive relic beds, the oldest belonging entirely to the neolithic age. The inhabitants did not yet cultivate the soil, but subsisted chiefly by the chase. The bones of the stag and of the wild boar are extremely plentiful, while those of the ox and the sheep are rare. There are no remains of cereals of any kind, but great stores of hazel nuts were found, together with acorns some of them adhering to the inside of the pipkins in which they had been roasted for food. Cereals are still absent, although acorns, hazel nuts, and cornel cherries are found. But the pastoral stage had plainly been reached, since the bones of the stag and the wild boar become rare, while those of the ox and the sheep are common.

In the pile dwellings at Ljubljana in Slovenia both flax and grain are absent,but hazel nuts in enormous quantities were found, together with the kernels of the water chestnut. At Hočevarica an eneolithic pile dwelling site in the Ljubljana marshes, dated to 3640-3520 BC together with the cereal remains (rye and wheat), many wild plant food remains were found too: acorns, grapes, cornel-cherry, raspberries, water chestnuts, poppy seeds, hazelnuts, etc. [74]

In Switcerland, the food remains found in Bronze age sites show that grain crops consisted of several sorts of wheat (emmer, einkorn, bread wheat and spelt), barley and three sorts of millet including broomcorn millet. Then there were oil plants (poppy and flax), and legumes, peas, beans and lentils. Wild fruits found are apples, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, pears, sloes, rose-hips, elderberries and nuts (acorn, hazel and beech), as well as various other species which could have been eaten, though they are not primary food plants. At the Bronze Age sites Hauterive-Champréveyres and Zug-Sumpf ceramics with charred acorns inside have been found. The acorns were all peeled. [55]

At La Marmotta, a few hundred meters outside the village of Anguillara Sabazia, remains of an Early Neolithic lakeshore village, datable 5700 BCE have been found.


The strongest evidence that the Marmottans came from far away, is simply that their culture was advanced from the start. In the region around Lake Bracciano, according to Fugazzola Delpino, there is no sign of any but hunter-gatherers before the settlement was built at La Marmotta. The builders of the village had at their disposal, from the start, the entire "Neolithic package": domesticated animals and plants, ceramic pots, polished stone tools, just as though they had unloaded all those things from their boats. They kept sheep and goats; they brought pigs and cows with them too, and two breeds of dog, and they planted a wide variety of crops, wheat and barley and legumes. They also collected fruit, apples, plums, raspberries, strawberries. Especially in winter they supplemented their diet with acorns, which they stored in large ceramic jars.


They cultivated flax to make linen and planted opium poppies.

Atlantic

Charred acorns have been found at several Late Mesolithic sites at Doel (Belgium) dated to between 7500 BC and 3000 BC , together with a variety of other collected wild plants. [64]

Swifterbant culture was a Mesolithic archaeological culture in the Netherlands, dated between 5300 BC and 3400 BC. Like the Ertebølle culture, the settlements were concentrated near water, in this case creeks, river dunes and bogs along post-glacial banks of rivers like the Overijsselse Vecht. Hazelnuts and acorns were discovered in hearths at the Swifterbant site. At another Swifterbant culture site at Polderweg dated to the latter part of the sixth millennium BC. Throughout this period the main activity appears to have been pike fishing, probably undertaken during the second half of the winter. Roach, bream, tench, eels, catfish, and salmon also were caught, probably through the use of sophisticated traps. Beaver and otter were the most important mammals, probably trapped for their pelts, as were pine marten, wild cat, and polecat. The remains of wild boar and red and roe deer also were present in the assemblage. Fowling concentrated on ducks, and plant resources comprised acorns, hazelnut, water nut, wild apple, and various berries. [53]

At the late Neolithic settlements of North-Holland, the analysis of the preserved food remains in the beakers provided clear evidence of acorns being pulverised and then cooked for consumption with the addition of fish fats and grain. The charred remains of acorn (Quercus), preserved at Zeewijk as fragmented cotyledons and isolated remains of cotyledon parenchyma, suggest that they were also processed at the site. No pericarp remains were found, suggesting that the acorns’ shells were peeled off prior to contact with fire. Charred acorn remains were also found at other Single Grave Culture sites in the region. [77]

The archaeobotanical analysis of the settlement sites from the Maas, Scheldt and Demer region showed that during the Bronze Age people grew cereals (six-row barley, emmer wheat, bread wheat, millet) and also collected acorns. During the Iron Age the same crops were grown as in the Bronze Age. Besides these, spelt wheat was regularly found. It was interesting to discover three burnt granaries from the early Iron Age, in which large quantities of acorns had been stored. Acorns are highly nutritious and quite suitable for human consumption, provided the toxic substances they contain are first leached out. At 10 or so Bronze and Iron Age sites elsewhere in the Netherlands, large amounts of charred acorns have been found, which were probably intended for human consumption. [73]



In France, large numbers of charred acorns have been found at the Bronze Age sites of Questembert, Lyon and Fort-Harrouard. At Questembert, the charred acorns were associated with fragments of quern stones. Silos with acorns have been found at several archaeological sites such as the Late Bronze Age site of Planches-près-Arbois.[64]

An exceptionally large amount of charred acorns was excavated in Boezinge Iron age site in Belgium. The site was dated to the middle or late La Tène period (400 - 200 BC). [64]


The discovery raises questions about the role of acorns in prehistoric subsistence strategies. Although acorns are nowadays no longer considered as fit for human consumption, the growing number of archaeobotanical finds of acorns and especially this recent find from Belgium point to their former importance as a staple food.

Large numbers of charred acorns have been found in the Netherlands as well, most of them in Iron Age pits. Examples include the ±20,000 charred acorns found at Amersfoort-Zocherpad and ±1800 charred acorns excavated at Dalen-Huidbergsveld. An Iron Age pot and a silo, both filled with charred acorns, have been found in Colmschate. For Belgium, there are only a small number of archaeobotanical records of acorns. But this is most probably the result of the scarcity of archaeobotanical research on prehistoric sites than a reflection of a supposedly limited role of acorns in the local prehistoric food economy. About 2100 charred acorns have been found at the Iron Age site of Evergem-Ralingen, together with cultivated plants like common millet, six-rowed barley, emmer, spelt and horse bean. Another large quantity of charred acorns has been found at a Roman Age site at Zele. [64]

South Baltic

The Ertebølle culture (ca 5300 BC – 3950 BC) is the name of a hunter-gatherer and fisher culture dating to the end of the Mesolithic period. The culture was concentrated in Southern Scandinavia, but genetically linked to strongly related cultures in Northern Germany and the Northern Netherlands. This culture is a descendant of the Kongemose culture (Kongemosekulturen) which was a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer culture in southern Scandinavia ca. 6000 BC–5200 BC. The people of the Ertebolle culture made a distinctive type of pointed pottery:


Based on the abundance of hazelnut shells found at the studied site and in other studies of Mesolithic sites in southern Scandinavia it is proposed that these remains may testify to an important food supply rather than just use as a supplement to animal protein. It is also hypothesised that a regional decrease in hazel populations and thus hazelnut availability at the end of the Mesolithic may have motivated the adoption of Neolithic subsistence. Numerous macro remains were retrieved from samples taken at the Tågerup site of the archaeological excavations of Kongemose and Ertebølle settlement phases, 6700–6000 b.c. and 5500–4900 b.c. respectively. [20] Plants and other organic remains were well preserved in the refuse layers from the settlements. The pollen record includes no clear indications of human impact on the vegetation during the Mesolithic which means that no agriculture was practised. Numerous finds of crushed dogwood stones from the Kongemose phase, often partly carbonised, suggest that these stones were used for the extraction of oil. Other plants found in the Kongemose refuse layers that may have been used are apples, cherries, raspberries, acorns and rowan-berries. 

The Late Mesolithic Stone Age settlement of Tybrind Vig, dated to 8000–4000 BC, is located on the west coast of the Danish island Fyn (central Denmark). Originally, it was a coastal settlement, but because of a geological tilting of the southwestern part of Denmark that has taken place since the Mesolithic, the prehistoric coastlines of this part of the country today are submerged. The site therefore now lies on the seafloor, c. 250 meters from the present-day coast and 2–3 meters below modern sea level. People living in this settlement were fishermen.The area in front of the settlement functioned as a “fishing ground,” evidenced by the presence of hundreds of stakes from destroyed fish fences, fishhooks (of bone), nets, net floats, fish weirs, and leister prongs. This area probably was the access to richly stocked waters that were the main reason for selecting this particular spot for habitation. The hundreds of animal bones—mainly from fish (small cod, flatfish, and dogfish); sea mammals, such as gray seals and porpoises (but also one killer whale); and red and roe deer and wild boar—give evidence of the economy of the site. In the forest  fur-bearing animals, such as pine marten, otter, fox, and badger, were trapped. The only domesticated animal was the dog. Hazelnuts and acorns were collected and roasted at the site. [24]

The Funnelbeaker culture, short TRB or TBK from (German) Trichterbecherkultur (ca 4300 BC–ca 2800 BC) was an archaeological culture in north-central Europe. The TRB ranges from the Elbe catchment in Germany and Bohemia with a western extension into the Netherlands, to southern Scandinavia (Denmark up to Uppland in Sweden and the Oslofjord in Norway) in the north and to the Vistula catchment in Poland in the east.


With the exception of some inland settlements such as Alvastra pile-dwelling, the settlements are located near those of the previous Ertebølle culture on the coast. It was characterised by single-family daubed houses ca 12 m x 6 m. It was dominated by animal husbandry of sheep, cattle, pigs and goats, but there was also hunting and fishing. Primitive wheat and barley was grown on small patches that were fast depleted, due to which the population frequently moved small distances. There was also mining and collection of flint stone, which was traded into regions lacking the stone, such as the Scandinavian hinterland. The culture imported copper from Central Europe, especially daggers and axes. The houses were centered on a monumental grave, a symbol of social cohesion. Burial practices were varied, depending on region and changed over time. Inhumation seems to have been the rule. The oldest graves consisted of wooden chambered cairns inside long barrows, but were later made in the form of passage graves and dolmens.

In the study which tried to answer the question whether traces of foods (including phytoliths and starches) can survive in association with the vessels, Ertebole and Funnelbeaker cultures vesels from the Neustadt site were examined under microscope. Acorn consistent granules are found in 90% of samples used to process plants, from both Ertebole and Funnelbeake vessel styles. Vesels from thirteen samples have considerable proportions of food traces classified as acorns, and 11 of those have been classified as primarily acorn type grains. These findings correspond strongly with manual observations of the distinctive acorn type granules, suggesting that a primary role for these vessels was the processing of acorns.

Acorns  are found in 18 of the 20 samples, suggesting that intensive and temporally extensive processing of acorn took place at Neustadt. The exceptional preservation of this class of starch may be due to the low temperature heating of the acorn to leach toxic tannins. This act would soften the nut - meat and begin to release the amylose content resulting in a slow swelling of many of the starches. This evidence suggests that the role of hazelnut in the diet of hunter - gatherers may have been over - exaggerated to the detriment of other possible staples, like acorn. In a pottery context hazelnuts are only in two vessels in proportions > 20%.

The extensive findings of acorn in both the Ertebølle and Funnel Beaker period evidence a much more gradual increase in the importance of domesticated plants than we have seen for domesticated animals products, like milk, which are present in the Ertebølle period. Wild plants massively outweigh the representation of domesticated plants in both periods, and acorn exemplifies this. The most frequently found staple plant is acorn . What is also very interesting is that samples that contain aquatic food traces generally also contain high proportions of acorn type starch . The evidence points to a possible association of aquatic foods like fish with acorns. Sixty percent of samples with fish traces also contain acorn granule forms.

Dividing the Ertebølle plant remains from the Funnel Beaker we find that although acorn is present in both periods it is represented in 39% of the respective Ertebølle residues in proportions > 20%, compared to only 18% of the Funnel Beaker samples suggesting its staple importance was beginning to decline in the Early Neolithic. [65]

A well known archaeobotanical record of acorns from Denmark consists of ca. 671 charred acorns found in the floor level of a burnt down Neolithic house. Here, the charred acorns were found together with hazelnuts, apples and barley. More recently, 40-50 litres of charred acorns have been found in Gilmosevej, a Late Neolithic site in central Jutland. The acorns were mixed with spelt and naked six-rowed barley. [64]

Another important archaeobotanical find of acorns derives from the Bronze Age site of Moers-Hülsdonk in Germany. At this site, a large rectangular pit containing charred acorns and hazelnuts, emmer, barley, oat, apples has been excavated. The pit was used to roast acorns. [64]

At Schussenried,in Wurtemberg, in addition to hazel nuts and acorns, wheat is abundant, but neither woven flax nor spindle whorls have been discovered, the only fabric being a bit of rope made from the bark of the lime tree. [64]


Acorns were also found at the Iron Age site Saint-Marcel du Pègue, and several Iron Age sites in northern France. Ceramics filled with charred acorns have been found at Boussangues (Chalcolithic) and Le Cayla (Iron Age). A large number of possibly roasted acorns have been found at the Iron Age site of l’abri Sous-les-Rideaux. [64]

Central Europe

The Bell-Beaker culture, sometimes shortened to Beaker culture which existed during the period 2800 – 1800 BC is the term for a widely scattered 'archaeological culture' of prehistoric western Europe starting in the late Neolithic or Chalcolithic and running into the early Bronze Age.


Remains from the Bell Beaker Culture are found in an area from Portugal to Poland, and from Morocco to the British Isles.The village of Cortaillod/Sur les Rochettes-est in Switzerland is one of the Bell Beaker culture settlements where systematic archaeobotanical research could be undertaken. The collection of wild food plants played an important role in the economy of the village of Cortaillod/Sur les Rochettes-est. [76] Nine species of nuts and fruits were identified. The most frequent among them were hazelnut and crab apple. Acorns were also collected too: 41 acorns were found in house where an acorn store was probably destroyed in a fire or in an accident during roasting. Acorns were apparently a widely used food in the Bell Beaker period. Charred stocks have been unearthed at two French sites of this date: at Poses - Le Vivier  Le Clos-Saint-Quentin and Derri re-le-Chateau. Further contemporary remains of acorns were found in Zambujal, Portugal and in Monte Cvolo, Italy. In another Bell-Beaker settlement, Malhada, dated to the second half of the 3rd millennium BC, archaeological remains confirm that one of the domestic activities which regularly took place inside of the Bell-Beaker houses was roasting and grinding of acorns. [72]


The oldest Mesolithic culture in Czechoslovakia, dated to 10 000 BC, often compared to the West European Azilian culture, still shows many traditions of the Late Palaeolithic, but the later phases, the Sauveterrian and Tardenoisian, are already fully Mesolithic. Mesolithic sites in Czech republic and Slovakia were usually situated on dunes in the neighborhood of water or on the banks of rivers and lakes which reveals that fishing must have been of great importance. Besides nets and baskets, so far not known in  Czechoslovakia, fish-hooks of flint were used. Collected food included tortoises, snails, mussels, hazel-nuts, and acorns. [28]

The Linear Pottery culture is a major archaeological horizon of the European Neolithic, flourishing circa 5500–4500 BC. It is abbreviated as LBK (from German: Linearbandkeramik).



The densest evidence for the culture is on the middle Danube, the upper and middle Elbe, and the upper and middle Rhine. It represents a major event in the initial spread of agriculture in Europe. The pottery after which it was named consists of simple cups, bowls, vases, and jugs, without handles, but in a later phase with lugs or pierced lugs, bases, and necks. They were obviously designed as kitchen dishes, or for the immediate or local transport of food and liquids. However even these cereal farmers continued to collect and eat wild fruit and nuts including acorns.

The data set for the 27 Linear Pottery culture sites includes 1068 records by presence of the 96 edible wild plant species. Of this 75 wild plant foods are found to be common on Linear Pottery culture sites, including species with edible parts other than seeds/fruits). Crab apple, hazel nut, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, beech nut, common nettle and oak acorn are the most frequently found wild plant species. [35]

The analysis of the food remains in the late neolithic, post LBK, early Bronze Age sites in Central Europe has shown that in the Bronze Age, the spectrum of crop plants, which mostly consisted of grains like emmer and barley, was significantly broadened by legumes like pea, lentil and chickpea.  At many settlement features, acorns and other wild fruits, for instance, wild apples, dewberries and blackthorns were found too. Their presence testifies not only to the supplementary role of gathering in the inhabitants' economy but also helps reconstruct in general terms some elements of the vegetation around the settlement. [56]

In general the situation regarding food plant remains is the same across the whole of Central Europe and the Mediterranean. We find acorns, beechnuts, hazelnuts and other wild fruits present in all the Bronze Age sites in significant amounts to indicate that they were a significant part of people's diet. [55]

The Lengyel culture, is an archaeological culture of the European Neolithic, centered on the Middle Danube in Central Europe. It flourished during 5000-3400 BC. It is a wide interaction sphere or cultural horizon rather than an archaeological culture in the narrow sense. Its distribution overlaps with the Tisza culture and with Stroke-Ornamented Pottery (STK) as far north as Osłonki, central Poland.


Lengyel pottery was found in western Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Austria, Poland, and in the Sopot culture of the northern parts of Former Yugoslavia. Influence in pottery styles is found even further afield, in parts of Germany and Switzerland.

Settlements consisted of small houses as well as trapezoid longhouses. These settlements were sometimes open, sometimes surrounded by a defensive ditch.

The economy of the Lengyel culture was based on domesic animals, hunting of game and growing crops. Food was largely complemented by gathered wild growing crops and plants. The environment of the setlements consisted mostly of deciduous or mixed forests. Throughout the Lengyel culture, oak is the most frequent. Part of the setlements’ economy was focused on gathering fruit and nuts from the surroundings, such as acorns, dogwood, glossy buckthorn, maloideae, hazelnuts and blackthorn. As for grown plants,  carbonized remains of grains of einkorn and emmer wheat, which was the main grown plant in the Lengyel culture in Slovakia, were found. Occassionally, spelt and barley occured. Leguminous plants are represented by lenils, peas and a texile plants by flax. [38] Although the growing was intense, the sown fields were small. Acorns and ceral were grinded using this type of grinding stones:


The Tisza culture is a Neolithic culture of the late 5th to early 4th millennium BC that existed along the Tysa River basin in Transcarpathia and in the adjacent Hungarian and Slovak borderlands. The people of this culture engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and hunting. They lived in permanent surface houses (sometimes in temporary semi-pit dwellings) and buried their dead on their sides in a flexed position in shallow graves. Excavations at culture sites revealed pottery, earthenware figurines of humans, and large flint and stone inventories, including scrapers, axes, and arrowheads.


The sites which belong to Tisza culture are relatively rich in plant remains. The botanical evidence suggests settled population which cultuvated cereals (barley, einkorn, emmer, millet) and legumes (lentil, grass pea and pea). Flax was also cultivated. Cornelian cherry, mirabolan plum, crab Apples and acorns were also collected and eaten. [34]

The Baden culture, ca 3600 BC-ca 2800 BC, is an eneolithic culture found in central Europe. It is known from Moravia, Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, Western Romania and Eastern Austria. Imports of Baden pottery have also been found in Germany and Switzerland.


At the end of the Copper Age, people of the Baden culture settled in the Carpathian basin, also around Budapest. There were several main factors that played a role in the formation of this culture: besides the remains of cultural elements from the Middle Copper Age, there were also the effects of the Pit grave culture from the Pontus region (kurgan people of the Pitgrave culture), and of the early Bronze cultures from the Aegean and Northwestern-Anatolian regions. Their settlements established along the Danube and next to some creeks in Budapest, both in hilly and flat areas, reflect a peaceful way of life. The most significant sites were excavated on Csepel-sziget, in Káposztásmegyer, in Andor, Zugló and Paskál streets in the XI. district, and on Corvin tér. The people of Baden culture were cereal farmers and they grew barley and wheat products (einkorn, emmer). They made cereal fertility ritual cups like this one:


But they also ate roasted acorns from oak trees native to the region. Besides growing vegetables, they also kept large lifestock, but we have data that show traces of smaller farm animals (sheep, goat) and pig husbandry as well. [71]

The Corded Ware culture which existed in the Central Europe between 2900–2450/2350 BC, alternatively characterized as the Battle Axe culture or Single Grave culture, was an enormous European archaeological horizon that begins in the late Neolithic (Stone Age), flourishes through the Copper Age and culminates in the early Bronze Age. It receives its name Corded Ware from the ornamentation of its characteristic pottery, Single Grave from its burial custom, and Battle Axe from its characteristic grave offering to males, a stone battle axe.


There are very few discovered settlements, which led to the traditional view of this culture as exclusively nomadic pastoralists. However, this view was modified, as some evidence of sedentary farming emerged. Traces of Emmer wheat, bread wheat and barley were found at a Corded Ware site at Bronocice in south-east Poland. Wheeled vehicles (presumably drawn by oxen) are in evidence, a continuation from the Funnel beaker culture era. One other thing that was found in the Corded Ware sites were acorns.

Masses of charred acorns were reported in West Prussian sites of the Corded Ware culture [42]. The sites of the Globular Amphora (Corded Ware) people contained agricultural tools, generally quern (grinder) stones, stone hoes, and wooden plowshares, indicate farming. The evidence of domesticated plants comes from impressions of barley, wheat, and pulses found in clay daub. Finds of carbonized acorns indicate their use either for human consumption or as fodder for swine. Agriculture, however, seems to have been only supplementary to an essentially stock breeding economy in which cattle were of paramount importance. They also bred pigs, horses, dogs, sheep, and goats and hunted, fished, and gathered wild plants. [43]

Evidence for the collection of acorns at the late Copper Age - early Bronze Age site Csepel-Vízmű (Hungary) provides information not only about consumption behaviours but also aids in the reconstruction of the local environment. [58]

On Bronze age Knovíz sites in northern Bohemia, pits of various shapes are found, sometimes with the remains of stored grain or acorns. [55]

A pit uncovered in the Vatina tell from Feudvár which was discovered inside a house and which contained several complete vessels, had acorns and seeds of other plants, different types of cereals, fish and animal bones, and snails were found inside and near the vessels. [59]

Bronze and iron age Grzybiani site in Poland has also yielded acorns together with grains. [60]

In Romania, cereals are mainly barley and spelt, with some einkorn, emmer, rye and millet. Especially rich remains come from the Eneolithic–Bronze Age tell site of Sucidava-Celei (Olt), where in addition to the standard cereals: rye, spelt, wild cherry there are also legumes, vines, acorns and flax. [55]

Within the Carpathian Basin both fruits and nuts are recovered from all three periods (Neolithic, Copper, Bronze), although in varying numbers. The highest diversity of fruit and nut remains in the Carpathian Basin were recovered from records dating to Late Bronze Age in Serbia. Nut remains recovered from the Carpathian Basin consist of hazelnuts, acorns and almonds. These three species are found during all three periods (Neolithic, Copper, Bronze), although almond has only been identified within the Bronze Age levels at Grapčeva Špilja (coastal Croatia). Remains of hazelnuts are found predominantly in the Late Neolithic and Late Copper Age, but generally in small quantities. [58]

The highest frequency and quantity of acorn remains are from the Bronze Age, including a large deposit of 300 acorns recovered from a ceramic pot at Carei-Bobald (Romania). [75] This site belonged to the Koszider culture, an early Tumulus culture of the (Early) Bronze Age. The culture covered vast area in Rumania, Czech republic Slovakia, Poland, Germany during the second millennium BC 1800 BC - 1400 BC.


This large deposit from Carei-Bobald would therefore support the continued utilisation of acorns into the Bronze Age.

The Urnfield culture (c. 1300 BC – 750 BC) was a late Bronze Age culture of central Europe. The name comes from the custom of cremating the dead and placing their ashes in urns which were then buried in fields. The Urnfield culture followed the Tumulus culture and was succeeded by the Hallstatt culture. This is one of the urns used by urnfield culture. Does anyone else think it looks like an acorn?


Several waste pits were discovered during the archaeological excavations of the Late Bronze Age and Late La Tène settlements in Nova Bukovica and Kalnik-Igrisce in Croatia. Among the stone items, grindstones were found which were probably used for grinding grain and acorns. Paleobotanical analyses confirm that cereals were prepared in this part of the settlement. A preliminary analysis of samples from Kalnik-Igrisce confirms the presence of various types of wheat, barleyand most likely millet. At both sites large pots in which grains were stored, were found. Various pulses (broad bean and lentil seeds), wild apples and oak acorn,. Most acorns were carbonized. Broad bean finds suggest agricultural activities, both at Nova Bukovica and Kalnik, which was additionally confirmed for Kalnik by finds of various types of wheat. On the other hand, the presence of oak acorn suggests that at both settlements gathering was practiced. This is further supported with finds of wild apples at Kalnik. [62]

Balkans

Lepenski Vir is an important Mesolithic archaeological site located in Serbia in central Balkan peninsula The latest radiocarbon and AMS data suggests that the chronology of Lepenski Vir is compressed between 9500/7200-6000 BC. Lepenski Vir is located on the banks of the Danube in eastern Serbia, within the Iron Gates gorge, near Donji Milanovac. It is famous for its stone idols:


and its identical trapezoid houses with floors made of concrete:


A number of satellite villages belonging to the same culture and time period were discovered in the surrounding area. These additional sites include Hajducka Vodenica, Padina, Vlasac, Ikaona, Kladovska Skela and others. Found artifacts include tools made from stone and bones, the remains of houses, and numerous sacral objects including unique stone sculptures.

Charred food remains pits are relatively common on Neolithic sites across the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe, and they are considered food residues. Remains of nuts were present in various contexts and they could be taken as evidence, albeit very scarce, of wild plants used as food. Hazelnut and elderberry were identified in few samples, while other fruit/nut remains probably belong to wild plum and acorns. [25]

During the research which was focused on the period from 7000 to 5000 BC during which farming was introduced to the region, dietary tracing of human remains from Lepenski Vir and Vlasac (sites that are now submerged and no longer available for excavation) has provided a new perspective on subsistence practices and their changes through time.

In the Romanian-British excavations at Lepenski Vir site Schela Cladovei, where wet sieving was employed,fish bones far outnumbered those of other animals in Late Mesolithic contexts. Many of the fish caught were of very large size; The role of plant foods in Late Mesolithic subsistence in the Iron Gates is debatable. Late Mesolithic people would have had access to a broad array of plant foods in the early Holocene woodlands of the Iron Gates region. It is likely that wild plants were collected for dietary and other (medicinal and manufacturing) purposes. There are no artefacts from Mesolithic contexts that can be specifically used for plant collecting or processing, and even when fine sieving and flotation have been used, as in the Romanian-British excavations at Schela Cladovei, plant remains have been recovered only in very small quantities. In the end the report suggests that "the prevalence of oak in pollen assemblages from several sites suggest that acorns could have been a dietary staple in the lron Gates Mesolithic, but the apparent absence from the Iron Gates sites of the technology necessary for intensive processing of acorns argues against this idea". [26]

However grinding stones have been found in Lepenski Vir sites but this has not been published. Two querns from reliable archaeological context have been preserved in the material from Lepenski Vir. They were both found in the cultural layer without more precise stratigraphic determination. These massive stone objects with flat or slightly concave working surface were used for grinding grains (or acorns) and they differ from similar in shape and size stationary grinding stones only according to the stone they were made of and which was not friable. Simple querns were found in the Iron Gates also at Padina, Sector IV – Babice and at Velesnica. What is amazing is that a lot more stone tools were found but were discarded and only the best looking ones were kept....[27]


Every house in Lepenski Vir had a hollowed stone which is usually classified as an altar. There are certain opinions that these altars from Lepenski Vir should be rather identified as querns and mortars and not as cult objects


In Croatia at the Grapčeva cave, charred acorns were the most abundant of all plant remains throughout the Neolithic, Copper Age and Bronze Age occupation layers. [61] Archaeological findings, especially engraved and colored ceramics, represent evidence about neolithic culture on the island in the period between 5th and 3rd millennium BC. as well as their connections with people from today's Sicily and Greece.

The Karanovo culture is a neolithic farming culture named for the Bulgarian village of Karanovo.


The site at Karanovo itself was a hilltop settlement of 18 buildings, housing some 100 inhabitants. This site was inhabited more or less continuously from the early 7th to the early 2nd millennia BC. Nearby there is another settlement discovered at Stara Zagora. Here homes were quickly abandoned about 5500 B.C. when fire swept a Stone Age settlement. [49]


Depressions in the floor were fire rings used to dry foods such as wheat and acorns, found in bowls at the site.


The Starčevo culture, sometimes included within a larger grouping known as the Starčevo–Kőrös–Criş culture, is an archaeological culture of Southeastern Europe, dating to the Neolithic period between c. 5500 and 4500 BC, or according to other source, between 6200 and 5200 BC.


The Starčevo culture covered sizable area that included most of present-day Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Poland and Czech republic, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria.

The construction of houses in the Starčevo culture can be described best using the settlement of Divostin in Serbia. [45] Here, two different types of houses could be excavated. One type consisted of a roundish-elliptic object dug into the soil (termed “hut”) whose edge was surrounded by thin posts. Inside these dug-in features, hearths were found. The size of these “huts” amounts to 3-5 meters in length and 2-4 meters in width. The other type consists of real post houses with a rectangular ground plan. Sometimes, trenches along the walls can be found. The walls were made from wattle-and-daub. Sometimes, floors were conserved; they consisted of stamped clay. This is the reconstruction of the Early Neolithic Kőrös culture house with its finds excavated on the site of Szajol-Felsôföld [46]:


Food was stored in pits specially made for that purpose. The food remains discovered in such pits throughout of the Starčevo culture territory  in the Balkans were of various grains, legumes, oak acorns and beech mast. [47]

More confirmation that the people of the Starčevo culture used both grain and acorn as the source of starch was found in northern most Starčevo culture sites in Hungary, Poland and Czech republic.

The Körös Culture site of Berettyóújfalu–Nagy Bőcs-dűlő dates from the 5th millenium BC. The 12 samples processed to date contained a rich plant assemblage, characterized by a wide variety of plant remains. Over 700 seeds representing 30 species were found. The majority were well preserved macro remains of cereal grains. Mostly hulled wheats were grown: emmer, einkorn, spelt. common bread wheat, two and many rowed barley, millet. In addition to cereal grain pulses were represented by small seed lentil and field pea. Wild fruits, such as crab apple, European woodland grape, as well as acorns were also found. [48]

The Körös Culture site of Ibrány  dates from the 6th millenium BC. On this site, the seed of the European woodland grape are found in large quantities. The acorn of common oak (Quercus robur) found here is typical of prehistoric human consumption. These wild fruits appear in forests, especially on forest edges, proving that there were mixed gallery forests in the settlement’s close proximity. There is evidence that cereal was regularly processed. Earspindles of barley and of common or durum wheat were found as well as spikelet forks of hulled wheat (einkorn, emmer and spelt). In addition to chaff residues, as well as the seeds of related weeds, these remains are indicative of cereal cultivation. [48]

This type of grinding stone was used by the people from the Starčevo culture for grinding both wheat and acorn into flour:


The Brijuni Islands are a group of fourteen small islands in the Croatian part of the northern Adriatic Sea, separated from the west coast of the Istrian peninsula by the narrow Fažana Strait.


On the Gromace peninsula in Javorika Bay in an aeneolithic mud house a house a fireplace with remains of cereal seeds and acorns was found dated to about 6000 BC. [50]

The densest group of Neolithic settlements in all of Europe is found in the rich plain of Thessaly in central Greece. Most of these sites are related to Sesklo, a Thessalian site where first the “Neolithic triad” (pottery, domesticated plants, and animals) was identified.


The Neolithic settlement of Sesklo was covering an area of about 200.000 m2 in its peak period around 5.000 BC and comprised about 500 - 800 houses with a population of perhaps up to 5,000 people.  Achilleion, another Sesklo site, produced a long sequence of radiocarbon dates (c. 6400–5600 BC.) and is among the earliest of Neolithic sites in Greece. The settlers planted and reaped domesticated cereal crops (emmer and einkorn wheat, barley, and perhaps oats), either in mixed fields or separately. They added lentils in Achilleion I and II and peas in Achilleion III and IV. Wild pistachio nuts, acorns, and wild grapes were collected. The same mixed seed and nuts material remains have been identified from other early Neolithic Thessalian sites. [54]

We also find that acorns were collected and used as food in the Vinča culture. The Vinča culture, also known as Turdaș culture or Turdaș-Vinča culture, is a Neolithic archaeological culture in Southeastern Europe, dated to the period 5700–4500 BCE. It was the first metallurgical culture where both copper and bronze were first invented.



Vinca was also undoubtedly an agricultural society. Their principle crops were emmer wheat, acorn wheat, peas, barley, and lentils. People of the Vinca culture domesticated animals, the same types used in Greece of that time: sheep, goats, cattle and pigs.Archeological research shows the spread of agriculture from Tisza (Hungary today), across central Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, to Macedonia and Thessaly. Because Vinca was in a fertile area, the soil was conducive to agriculture, ans so it was “easy” to start agriculture in that environment. However when agriculture arrived to the Balkans, the area was mostly covered with oak forests. It was abundant with wild animals, but also wild grapes, berries, and cherries. So it is not surprising that the analysis of macro-botanical remains from the Neolithic Vinča culture sites has revealed that people of the Vinča culture continued to collect and eat the wild edible plants including acorns.  Edible fruits and seeds of several wild plants were discovered in Vinča archaeological material: elderberry, dwarf elder, blackberry, sloe, Cornelian cherry, bladder cherry and an unusual find of relatively large number of charred whole fruits of wild pear as well as acorn, chestnut and water chestnut. Majority of the fruit/nut species were previously identified at other Neolithic sites in Serbia and most likely represent gathered source of food, eaten fresh or dried and stored for use in winter. [51][52]

Far East

The Jōmon period  is the time in Prehistoric Japan from about 12,000 BC and in some cases cited as early as 14,500 BC to about 300 BC, when Japan was inhabited by a hunter-gatherer culture which reached a considerable degree of sedentism and cultural complexity.


It currently appears that the earliest pottery in the world may have been made in Japan, at or before the start of the Incipient Jōmon period.


Jomon peaple had a very varied diet. [21] Today, in the Japanese archipelago, there are approximately 435 native plant species that humans can eat.  To this number can be added the 120 species of mushroom that are edible for humans.  In total, this would have provided the Jomon people a wide range of possible plant resources to eat.  o date, over 58 species of plant remains have been recovered from Jomon sites.  While this may seem small, it must be kept in mind that the acidic soil conditions of Japan do not often promote the preservation of organic materials.  These remains include such plants as buckwheat, ferns, gourds, dogtooth violet, and mushrooms.  By far, the most common remains though are nuts such as acorns, chestnuts, horse chestnuts and walnuts. Since teeth with cavities have been found, it is thought that Jomon people ate much starchy food. [22] These are just some of the grinding stones found on Jomon sites [23]:


The most commonly hunted animals were the shika deer and the wild boar.  Both of these animals would have supplied a large quantity of meat.  Analysis of the faunal remains indicate that deer were hunted primarily during the winter, while boar were hunted year round.  Smaller animals, such as flying squirrels, foxes, monkeys, and rabbits were also hunted.  Shell middens are a common type of site found primarily in the Kanto region and in Hokkaido.  These sites are large accumulations of shells from shellfish collecting activities.  Clams, cockles, limpets and oysters were just a few of the species eaten by the Jomon people.  Analysis of the shells from numerous middens indicates that the Jomon exploited over 350 species of shellfish.  Fishing was also an important activity.  Fish bones, such as tuna, salmon and bonita, have been recovered from numerous shell middens and other contexts.

The Jeulmun (Chulmun) Pottery Period is an archaeological era in Korean prehistory broadly spanning the period of 8000–1500 BC.


The Jeulmun was a period of hunting, gathering, and small-scale cultivation of plants. Archaeologists sometimes refer to this life-style pattern as "broad-spectrum hunting-and-gathering". Acorns were found on several Jeulmun sites, including Amsa-dong and Misa-ri, and they are indicative of the importance of acorns in their diet. [29]

All over the mountain ranges in Korea, various species of oak comprise most of the forest. Even today, and historically, acorn jelly is enjoyed as one of most popular traditional foods among Korean people, whether they live in rural or urban areas. Thus, acorns must have been a good food resource for Chiilmun gatherers in the Western and the Eastern Region. Although direct archaeological evidence for acorn gathering or processing has not been discovered in the Osan-ni and other Chiilmun sites in the Eastern Region, several Jeulmun sites in the Western Region contained grinding stones, which must have been used for acorn processing.[33]



In China, the earliest grinding stones have been uncovered from several Paleolithic site clusters distributed on the Loess Plateau region along the middle Yellow River valley. These include Longwangchan in Shaanxi  and Shizitan and Xiachuan in Shanxi, dating to ca. 23,000–7000 BC. A study of usewear traces and starch residues on grinding stones from Locality 9 (S9 hereafter) in the Shizitan site cluster (ca. 10,700–9,600 BC.) has demonstrated that people used these tools to process various plant foods, including grasses, tubers, acorns, and legumes. Among the grass starch granules uncovered at this site, some from Panicoideae may have been the wild ancestors of domesticated millets (Panicum miliaceum and Setaria italica ssp. italica). Therefore, it is important to investigate the use of plants in an earlier period in this region, to trace possible continuity in a putative plant procurement strategy that may have eventually led to domestication.[82]

Jiahu was the site of a Neolithic settlement based in the central plain of ancient China, near the Yellow River. Most archaeologists consider the site to be one of the earliest examples of the Peiligang culture. Settled around 7000 BC, the site was later flooded and abandoned around 5700 BC. The settlement was surrounded by a moat and covered a relatively large area of 55,000 square meters (5.5 hectare). At one time, it was a complex, highly organized Chinese Neolithic society, home to at least 250 people and perhaps as many as 800. The important discoveries of the Jiahu archaeological site include the Jiahu symbols, one of the world's earliest examples in the history of writing.



Food was plentiful, from farming as well as hunting and foraging, and contributed to considerable population growth for such an early settlement.

The main farmed crop in Jiahu was rice. The Jiahu people used manure from their pigs and cattle as fertilizer, substantially increasing the yield of their rice crops. Although cereals have been the focus of discussions of subsistence systems, other plant foods probably played a larger role in Early Neolithic subsistence and need more consideration. People of the Jiahu culture gathered wild pears and apricots, and foraged for acorns, chestnuts, broad beans, edible roots and tubers in the surrounding countryside. There is evidence of domesticated pigs, dogs, poultry, and small numbers of cattle. The livestock produced meat, milk and eggs. There was also evidence of deer, wild boar and rabbit hunting, and fishing for carp and herring in the nearby rivers to the north and south, with nets made of hemp fibers. The red-crowned crane, a large bird indigenous to the region, was hunted for meat; its bones and feathers were also used for other purposes.

Grinding stones have provided a convenient proxy for the arrival of agriculture in China.


Not any more. Thanks to high-precision analyses of use-wear and starch residue from Jiahu site, it is shown that early Neolithic people were mainly using these stones to process acorns. This defines a new stage in the long transition of food production from hunter-gatherer to farmer. [30]

The Hemudu culture (5000 BC to 4500 BC) was a Neolithic culture that flourished just south of the Hangzhou Bay in Jiangnan in modern Yuyao, Zhejiang, China. Scholars view the Hemudu Culture as a source of the proto-Austronesian cultures. The Hemudu culture was one of the earliest cultures to cultivate rice. Recent excavations at the Hemudu period site of Tianluoshan has demonstrated rice was undergoing evolutionary changes recognized as domestication.



At Hemudu the presence of rice has been emphasized whereas the quantities of nuts, especially acorns, has been mainly ignored. While preliminary reports and secondary literature has tended to focus exclusively on the rice remains, in fact this can be seen as a small component of a broader subsistence base with a focus on nuts (acorns, foxnuts, horsechestnuts), waterchestnut, fruit (mountain peaches, apricots. In addition to bottlegourd, Sophora, job’s tears and Polygonaceae nutlets. In particular, acorns and waterchestnuts (both high in carbohydrates) were found in large quantities in six of the 15 excavated storage pits at Hemudu. [78]

In Middle Neolithic Devil Gate site belonging to Rudnaya culture and dated to 6000-3000 BC which was destroyed in a fire and partial destruction of the cave in ancient times, created conditions for preservation of organic materials including decorative items (beads, pendants and bracelets from bone and shell), fragments of nets, parts of cords and mats. Several human skeletons were buried with the sediments and anthropological analysis identifies them as representatives of Mogoloid population. Faunal remains from the cave confirm the complex structure of the economy based on hunting (bear, wolf, wild boar, red deer), fishing (fish and sea mammals bones), gathering (nuts, acorns).[67]

Boisman [Zhenxing] culture existed between 4000-3000 BC on the coast of the Olga Bay in the east of Primorie down to the north of Korean peninsula as a local version of the chronological tradition of Jeulmun ceramics. [67]  People from this culture formed a subsistence system based on fishing, hunting and gathering acorns, hazel nuts, and Manchurian walnuts, grapes, bird cherry and other fruit. They also did some farming which can be concluded by numerous indirect evidence of farming - hand plows, hoes, reaping knives, mortars similar to those known in the farming settlements from that time in Manchuria and Korea.[68][69]

North America

Acorns were eaten by native eastern North American people in most if not all regions where oak trees grew. [31] Archaeobotanists usually find small fragments of carbonized acorn shell: these can be identified to the genus level. Carbonized acorn nutmeats are occasionally recovered by flotation but may be difficult to recognize unless a good portion of the outer surface is present. Dry rockshelter sites have yielded desiccated acorn shell in midden debris, along with a few caches of whole acorns stored in large bags or prepared pits. There is no sub-region in the temperate Eastern Woodlands where flotation recovery has failed to yield acorn shell starting from Early Archaic period 7500-6500 BC. The overall impression is that acorn was the most important plant food in the Southeast until Mississippian culture when it was replaced in this position by corn. [32]

The earlier direct evidence of acorn use in California is charred acorn nutshell found in archaeological sites dating to 7900 BC. east of Mt. Diablo and 8,200 BC in the central Sierra foothills. Acorn nutshell is found in archaeological sites dating to all subsequent periods and is the most abundant charred plant food residue in all regions of central California, supporting the ethnographic information that acorns were the principal staple of California Indians”. Estimates of the beginning of intensive harvesting of acorns date to at least 2500 b.p. in central California and the Sierra Nevada. Mortar cups—small pockets in granite outcrops for pounding acorns and other foods—are ubiquitous in the Sierra Nevada, attesting to the widespread popularity of acorns. [16]

In the central valley of California during the period 3000 - 150 BC we find sedentary or semi-sedentary village dwelling hunter-gatherers. Their economy is focused on riverine resources (especially fish) and acorns. [66]

I hope you actually managed to read to the end of this article. In my next article I will talk about historical and ethnographic data about acorn eating. 


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[2]. Mousterian vegetal food in Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel
[3]. The oldest ever brush hut plant remains from Ohalo II, Jordan Valley, Israel (19,000 BP)
[4]. New find in Israel shows that cereal production predates agricultural societies by millennia
[5]. The Natufian Culture in the Levant, Threshold to the Origins of Agriculture
[6]. The Albucciu Nuraghe and Arzachena's Monuments
[7]. The Interplay of Economic, Climatic and Cultural Change Investigated Through Isotopic Analyses of Bone Tissue: The Case of Sardinia 4000-1900 BC 
[8]. The peoples of the Hills, ancient Ararat and Caucasus 
[9] Vegetation development in the Middle Euphrates and Upper Jazirah (Syria/Turkey)during the Bronze Age
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8 comments:

  1. Very interesting article. I couldn't find in my quick skim thru any mention of what nutritional value acorns might have added to diet. Can you direct me to the relevant section if it is there?

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind comment. Acorns are a great source of carbohidrates, proteins, minerals and vitamines. I will write about how and why acorns were and are eaten in one of my future posts.

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  2. Thanks for putting all of this together here - a great resource! Especially nice to see the photographs of grinding implements and storage vessels. Really brings the cultures to life when you can see what they were using and imagine the accompanying movements and thinking.

    Here's some evidence of acorn consumption in the British Isles for you:

    http://ondisturbedground.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/acorns-good-times-bread/

    ;) I

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  3. Another great article about something I've never previously thought about! Also loved the comprehensive photos! Thank you! Pleased you are going to follow up with one on why and how they are eaten, as it's made me want to try them!

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  4. In Jean Craighead George's wilderness survival novel "My Side of the Mountain", protagonist Sam Gribley grinds acorns into a flour. I always wanted to try that....

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  5. Wondering if acorns were found amongst the charred remains at this Bronze Age site in Britain:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-35280290

    I realize it was under water, but wouldn't charred remains remain viable?

    Thanks for all your research on the subject of acorns.

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  6. I greatly appreciate this article and am looking forward to any related articles about acorn eating and/or the symbiotic relationship and spiritual beliefs related to this. It is a fascination of mine too in many many ways.---1. the current renewed interests in food forests as a way to survive and work with the environment. 2. the belief systems surrounding oaks and trees- including the tree alphabet. 3. the long term symbiotic relationship with trees and humans. 4 the consciousness of trees to work with humans for our survival. 5. What does eating acorns do to the body and mind? 6. The enormous crops of acorns falling now-- or last Fall around the world... and now the subsequent growth of potential new seedlings that I see all over the place. 6. The later beliefs about Mother Mary and the oak and lindens. 7. Tree iconography, such as the Greenman (not to mention his relationship to Christ). Acorn iconography in churches..... and on and on. If there is any way I can be notified of subsequent or previous research on this, I would be extremely grateful

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    Replies
    1. Hi Gina. Thank for this kind comment. I am planning few more articles about the consumption of acorns. I am still to cover the historical and ethnographic records about the human consumption of acorns and the discussion about the reason for switch from acorns to grain. I think this is quite an interesting question with yet no answer...

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