Friday, May 13, 2016

Spelt in the Belt (Akeret, 2005)

In the archaeo-botanical record of Europe, spelt is for the first time observed (uncontested [1]) in a Bell Beaker village near Cortaillod/Sur les Rochettes-est in Switzerland.  It appears to have been a staple crop in this location and is grown throughout the Bronze Age to the modern period in the Alps and parts of Central Europe. 

This is rather significant because, not but a mere distance away, in the village of Saint-Blaise/Bains des Dames, a slightly earlier Corded Ware-ized village exists, completely without spelt.  Rather, in Saint-Blaise, barley is the money grain.  So, it is clear that this was a more recently developed local crop or possibly an imported crop.  Either way it appears first with Bell Beakers.

Back in 2005, Akeret had referred to a previous hypothesis, that European spelt (genetically distinct from Asian spelt) was the result of an independent hybridization event between einkorn (diploid) and emmer (tetraploid) that happened in Europe creating spelt, a hexaploid wheat (2+4=6).  The situation has developed that bread wheat, a hexaploid, is not descended from spelt (also a hexaploid), but that both Asian and European spelts might be more recent and separate creations.

At Cortaillod, a great variety of domestic and wild plants are found in the occupation area, grains, legumes, flax, hazelnuts and apples.  The most interesting collections are the acorn stores that appear to have been common in Beakerworld (Akeret), probably for making cornmeal.  Also, there are quite a few collected juniper berries, which might suggest certain alcoholic drinks, to me at least.  There is also several caffeinated plants, maybe chamomile, sunflower seeds, and leafy plants.

Shewry, 2009 [Link]

So why plant spelt in Cortaillod?  Spelt is winter hardy and can be grown in crappy, poorly drained and sandy soils.  The people who planted spelt at Cortaillod did so with intelligent purpose, either having sought a suitable grain to meet the field conditions, or they imported themselves and the spelt hitchhiked.

I find the seed preferences of Late Neolithic Europeans interesting because it translates through time an intelligent decision process, one that involved contemplation, planning and networks. 

See also on spelt:
 Fokkens and Harding (2013) 

Dvorak et al (2011)

Akeret, Orni "Plant remains from a Bell Beaer site in Switzerland, and the beginnings of Triticum spelta (spelt) cultivation in Europe"   Veget Hist Archaeobot (2005) 14:279–286  DOI 10.1007/s00334-005-0071-1 [Link]


  1. What is the geographic range and origin of spelt v. barley?

    1. Spelt is rather limited outside Central/Alpine Europe but is found in small numbers in SW Asia and the North Transcaucasia. The oldest spelt documented in the North Pontic, except it is a different hybrid @ 5k B.C.
      The exact origin of European spelt is unknown, although Academia always defaults for local origins (and it may well be).
      Almost all cereals are native to SE Anatolia and the surrounding region

  2. BBB you are teasing me. right? :-)
    you know Spelt was first cultivated in the land of the Shulaveri Shomu by end 6th/5th millennia, Was part of Merimde cereal stock in Egypt , right?
    And I am sure I will find something in Iberia.

    Were you aware of it?

    1. Well everything is earliest in Kudisrtan and surrounds, probably spelt as well but I am unsure of any spelt earlier than the NE Transcaucasia

    2. BBB, BBB, .... :-)
      Lets be clear! you own reference book says specifically, specifically, that spelt was first detect as a cultivated in ARUCHLO I. That is north kurdistan or overall Levant. No, if we had to choose a "capital" for the shulaveri-Shomu was there.

      Then check how spelt was in Tell Tsaf. How spelt was in Shiquim, and then Merimde... One can track that in seconds at google.

    3. Tell tsaf, for the specific period I mentioned in my thesis, shows spelt and is most famous for a copper awl found. Analysis showed that the awl was actually from...ARUKHLO.

      Spelt is also found in Shiqmim which I talk about in my because of the horse skeleton. What I call the "horse problem".

    4. "north kurdistan" should be read...not kurdistan!

  3. Off topic, sorry, just wanted to share another bb burial story i saw in the news today. Yay!

    1. Thanks again Mandy! I'll check this out later tonight. Sounds interesting.

  4. BBB,
    if anyone wants to read something interesting...
    google "Hopf, 1987 iberia triticum"
    there is a document
    [DOC]Crasto de Palheiros (Murça, NE Portugal): a case study on diet ...

    Just read it. And there is no doubt Spelt was a very, very familiar wheat by...III millennium Portugal on a bell beaker site.

    What puzzles me, and is not the first paper, that shows this sites way up north Portugal, far away from what I expect to be the bell beaker route out of Iberia, But full of cattle and also SPELT. Will try to find again the paper regarding the spelt in other site... Same place but I think that one was Iron Age.

    1. Ok great. It'll be tomorrow or next before I'm able to read it. Thx

  5. Got it... bilingual.

  6. BBB,
    After reading the papers (and others) I figure the following. Actually Spelt itself is something similar to club wheat but actually is an hybridization of that and emmer. What papers say is that probably the club wheat (Hexaploid) is the same In both hybridization only the emmer (tetraploid) makes the difference between the Asian and the European.
    So… all in all what they are saying is that spelt is an event that occurred twice, one earlier (where that Hexa come) in the shulaveri heartland (Arukhlo) and the second in bell beaker midst.

    Ok, I can go with that. :=)