Plant food in the diet of the Early Iron Age pastoralists of Altai: Evidence from dental calculus and a grinding stone

O. G. Zanina, S. S. Tur*, S. V. Svyatko, V. I. Soenov, A. P. Borodovskiy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Archaeological studies have hypothesized that the diversification of production activities was an important adaptive strategy of seasonally mobile herders in the Eurasian steppe belt. The aim of this study, based on the extraction of starches and phytoliths from dental calculus and a grinding stone, was to determine the composition of plant food in the diet of ancient Altai pastoralists. Specimens of dental calculus (n = 43) and a fragment of muller, attributed to the Early Iron Age (5th c. BC – 5th c. AD) archaeological cultures of the Forest-Steppe Altai and Altai Mountains (Russia) were examined. For the analysis of extracted residuals, both optical and scanning electron microscopies were used. Seven plant species were identified in dental calculus, two of them were found on the grinding stone as well. The results of the study suggest that the Early Iron Age Altai pastoralists incorporated small-scale farming and foraging into their subsistence strategy. They consumed cultivated cereals, peas, and wild edible plants. The most important plant components of their diet were millet and underground storage organs (bulbs, roots) of wild edible plants, including kandyk (Erythronium sibiricum), lily (Lily martagon), and peony (Paeonia anomala). Young green herbs, such as nettle (Urtica dioica) and cow parsnip (Heracleum dissectum), were also consumed, though the range of green food in the analysed group can be underestimated. Millet was possibly a prestige food. The wild edible plants seem to have been gathered to diversify the pastoralist diet rather than as a “famine food”.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102740
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Volume35
Early online date24 Dec 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work has been supported by the Russian Government Assignment № AAAA-A18-118013190181-6 IPBPSS RAS (O.G.Zanina), the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, Project No. 19‐09‐00205 (S.S.Tur), and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, Public Contract Project No. 33.1971.2017/4.6 (V.I. Soenov). We are sincerely grateful to the co-editor Andy Howard and anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.

Funding Information:
This work has been supported by the Russian Government Assignment ? AAAA-A18-118013190181-6 IPBPSS RAS (O.G.Zanina), the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, Project No. 19?09?00205 (S.S.Tur), and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, Public Contract Project No. 33.1971.2017/4.6 (V.I. Soenov). We are sincerely grateful to the co-editor Andy Howard and anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd

Copyright:
Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Altai
  • Dental calculus
  • Early Iron Age
  • Grinding stone
  • Phytoliths
  • Starches
  • Transhumant pastoralism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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