This thesis examines the introduction and importation of numerous exotic food plants into north-western and western Europe during the Roman and medieval periods. It constitutes the first part of a wider, ongoing research project directed by Prof. Van der Veen on “Long-Distance Trade and Agricultural Development”. The aim is to establish the dispersal histories of these exotics and highlight the active role of food in processes of socio-economic change in past societies.\ud Relevant data were collected from all available archaeobotanical records in the area and period under study, and brought together in a uniform database format.\ud Information was gathered on the species presence, mode of preservation and accuracy of identification. Sites are classified by period (Roman/early medieval/medieval), type (urban/rural/military), status (elite/non-elite) and context (secular/ceremonial/religious). Two types of analyses are employed to identify the chronological, social and geographical dispersal of the most common (forty-two) species: a species-specific, and a multivariate technique (Correspondence Analysis).\ud Results indicate the emergence of very distinct dispersal patterns for each period and for the various species. In the Roman period numerous new food plants become available in different contexts. Many species that could be locally cultivated become incorporated into local diet, particularly near the Rhine frontier, while rarer species are limited to military, major urban and elite sites. In the following period most exotics disappear, indicating a turn towards more local dietary and agricultural regimes and highlighting the disjointed socio-economic context of the early medieval world. A shift in activities northwards is observed during the medieval period when the diversity of species increases again. Different food plants become prominent but most are associated with towns and the urban elite, marking socio-economic divisions.\ud This study advances understanding of the changing nature of the exotic status of many species, and reveals these as crucial guides to charting human and economic impacts and movements
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