Posts Tagged ‘Pollen’


Analysis of pollen grains taken from sediment beneath the Sea of Galilee have pinpointed the period of crisis that led to the Late Bronze Age collapse of civilization.

Topic: Drought in Bronze Age

TEL AVIV — More than 3,200 years ago, life was abuzz in and around what is now this modern-day Israeli metropolis on the shimmering Mediterranean shore.

To the north lay the mighty Hittite empire; to the south, Egypt was thriving under the reign of the great Pharaoh Ramses II. Cyprus was a copper emporium. Greece basked in the opulence of its elite Mycenaean culture, and Ugarit was a bustling port city on the Syrian coast. In the land of Canaan, city states like Hazor and Megiddo flourished under Egyptian hegemony. Vibrant trade along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean connected it all.

Yet within 150 years, according to experts, the old world lay in ruins.

Experts have long pondered the cause of the crisis that led to the collapse of civilization in the Late Bronze Age, and now believe that by studying grains of fossilized pollen they have uncovered the cause.

In a study published Monday in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, researchers say it was drought that led to the collapse in the ancient southern Levant.

Theories have included patterns of warfare, plagues and earthquakes. But while climate change has long been considered a prime factor, only recently have advances in science given researchers the chance to pinpoint the cause and make the case.

The journal reports that an unusually high-resolution analysis of pollen grains taken from sediment beneath the Sea of Galilee and the western shore of the Dead Sea, backed up by a robust chronology of radiocarbon dating, have pinpointed the period of crisis to the years 1250 to 1100 B.C.

Unlike studies examining longer-term processes that may require a pollen analysis of strata 500 years apart, this pollen count was done at intervals of 40 years — the highest resolution yet in this region, said Prof. Israel Finkelstein of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University.

He added that the uniqueness of the study also lay in the combination of precise science and archaeological and historical analysis, offering the fullest picture yet of the collapse of civilization in this area at the end of the Bronze Age.

“Egypt is gone. Forever,” Professor Finkelstein said. “It never got back to that level of prosperity again.”

The first recorded hint of trouble in the north came in the mid-13th century B.C., according to the study, when a Hittite queen wrote to Ramses II, saying, “I have no grain in my lands.”

Several years ago, Professor Finkelstein and Prof. Steve Weiner of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel received a grant from the European Research Council to conduct research aimed at reconstructing ancient Israel.

The project consists of 10 tracks, including ancient DNA and molecular archaeology — an effort to identify what 3,000-year-old ceramic vessels might have contained.

For the climate change part of the project, Professor Finkelstein joined forces with Dafna Langgut, a palynologist — or pollen researcher — at Tel Aviv University, and Prof. Thomas Litt of the Institute of Geology, Mineralogy and Paleontology at the University of Bonn in Germany.

Recent studies of pollen grains conducted by experts in southeast Anatolia, Cyprus, along the northern coast of Syria and the Nile Delta came up with similar results, though with less control over the chronology, indicating that the crisis was regional.

Dr. Langgut described in an interview how the team extracted about 60 feet of cores of gray muddy sediment from the center of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, passing through 145 feet of water and drilling 65 feet into the lake bed, covering the last 9,000 years. At Wadi Zeelim in the southern Judean Desert, on the western margins of the Dead Sea, the team manually extracted eight cores of sediment, each about 20 inches long.
“We carried them on our backs,” Dr. Langgut said.

Pollen grains are one of the most durable organic materials in nature, she said, best preserved in lakes and deserts and lasting thousands of years. Each plant produces its own distinct pollen form, like a fingerprint. Extracting and analyzing the pollen grains from each stratum allows researchers to identify the vegetation that grew in the area and to reconstruct climate changes.

The laboratory work was carried out partly in Bonn and partly in Tel Aviv. To obtain the most precise results possible, Professor Finkelstein instructed the Tel Aviv scientists to focus on the period of 3,500 B.C. to 500 B.C. and analyze samples at intervals of 40 years. The process began in 2010 and took three years.

The results showed a sharp decrease in the Late Bronze Age of Mediterranean trees like oaks, pines and carobs, and in the local cultivation of olive trees, which the experts interpret as the consequence of repeated periods of drought.

The study also draws on a case study by Prof. Ronnie Ellenblum, a geographer and historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, of another regional collapse 2,000 years later to explain why, unlike in the steppe regions, a decrease in precipitation would have such a destructive effect on established city-states in green areas like Megiddo. The droughts were probably exacerbated by cold spells, the study said, causing famine and the movement of marauders from north to south.

After the devastation came a wet period of recovery and resettlement, according to the experts — a new order that gave rise to the kingdoms of biblical times.

“Understanding climate is key to understanding history,” said Professor Finkelstein, a co-author of “The Bible Unearthed,” a book published in 2001 that viewed the Bible as a national epic and a product of the human imagination. Taking issue with traditional efforts to use archaeology to verify the historicity of the biblical record, the authors promoted archaeology as a means of reconstructing the history of ancient Israel.

But biblical stories like Joseph’s interpretation of the pharaoh’s dream about seven fat cows being eaten by seven gaunt cows, signifying a period of abundance followed by famine, Professor Finkelstein said, “reflects the idea that climate is not stable.”

He added, “The authors of the Bible knew very well the value of precipitation and the calamity that may be inflicted on people by drought.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 22, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated one aspect of the extraction of core samples of sediment from the Sea of Galilee. The team passed through 145 feet of water to drill into the lake bed, not 1,000 feet.

Original article:

By ISABEL KERSHNER October 22, 2013


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When pollen researchers look into a microscope, they can easily distinguish large pollen grains from other grains, even with as little as 100x magnification. This pollen sample from the Shetlands shows one of the large cereal pollen grains. For comparison, the arrow at the bottom points to a dandelion pollen grain. (Photo: Daniela Richter and Kevin Edwards)

Topic pre Viking agriculture

The earliest traces of human life on the Faroe Islands date back to the Viking era. But new pollen analyses suggest that people, and perhaps even agriculture, existed on the islands long before the Vikings arrived.
It has long been speculated that Irish monks may have migrated north to the Faroe Islands long before the Vikings arrived there.
But despite the tireless efforts of many scientists, nothing has yet been found which can prove that people lived on the Faroes before the time around year 800 AD. Until now.

Cereal pollen indicates early farming on Faroe Islands

Over the past few years, scientists from Aberdeen University in Scotland have found something in early Faroese pollen samples that gives them a reason to rethink Faroese prehistory: cereal pollen.
But does finding flower dust from domesticated plants actually prove that anyone lived on the Faroes several centuries before the Vikings arrived there? And that they were farmers?
The answer is maybe. The researchers are sweating over soil samples and archaeological finds to unravel the mystery, but it’s not an easy task.
Kevin Edwards, a professor of physical geography and archaeology at Aberdeen University, tells ScienceNordic about their work:
”One of the main problems with cereal pollen is that it is produced in tiny quantities. Cereal pollen grains are also very large, and that means they don’t spread far with the wind. That’s why it’s so important to find it.”

Scientists want better samples

They have now found cereal pollen in the early samples from the Faroe Islands. There’s just one problem, though: the soil where they found the cereal pollen is far from ideal for accurate pollen analysis:

“It’s problematic that the sites where we found cereal pollen aren’t very good,” says Edwards. “It’s likely that the soil has been cluttered up, partly as a result of soil erosion, where soil from fields on nearby hillsides has fallen down into the low-lying peat bogs.”
Since peat bogs are the sites where the researchers can find samples of preserved pollen, the British research team is very keen to find samples from moors, so they can be sure that there is no clutter in the soil layers.

Now scientists will find cereal pollen if it’s there

In the meantime, they have come up with a way to make it easier to study large amounts of data and find the important cereal pollen – if it’s there to be found at all.
“Normally when you study pollen samples, you magnify them 500 times in a microscope,” says Edwards.
“Then you’ll get a clear view of it all – not only cereal pollen but also pollen from trees and herbs. But since cereal pollen is far larger than the other types of pollen, we can identify them using only 100x magnification.”
He explains that he and his colleagues first do the normal pollen counts with 500x magnification to get an idea of which plants were growing in the area, so they can figure out what the landscape looked like.
They then set the microscope to 100x magnification and go through numerous samples, this time scanning only for the large cereal pollen.
That way they minimise the risk of leaving something out.

Takes forever to count large amounts of pollen

Since even the tiniest samples contain large amounts of pollen, the scientists don’t need to go through vast amounts of material to get a general idea of the appearance of the landscape.
This means that the rare cereal pollen can escape if the researchers are not on their guard, he explains, using an example from the Shetland Islands, located just south of the Faroes:
”On the Shetland Islands we examined an area where the conventional methods did not reveal any traces of local agriculture. But we had archaeological evidence that grains were processed there. So the theory was that the grains were grown at more suitable sites on the islands and subsequently transported to the area which we examined,” he says.

”But with our low-magnification method we could study far more samples. And once we had done that, more cereal pollen popped up. This is how we documented that agriculture was practiced locally, all the way from the Bronze Age right up to the Viking period and beyond.”
Perhaps there really were people and agriculture on the Faroe Islands before the arrival of the Vikings. The pollen finds would suggest so, but further studies and improved samples are required for a conclusive answer to that.

Original article:
By Tania L Jensen

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Topic: Pollen reveals ancient palace grew the citrus in its garden.

Ramat Rachel



The earliest evidence of local cultivation of three of the Sukkot holiday’s traditional “four species” has been found at the most ancient royal royal garden ever discovered in Israel.

The garden, at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem, gave up its secrets through remnants of pollen found in the plaster of its walls.

The garden was part of an Israelite palace at Ramat Rachel that has been excavated for many years, most recently in a joint dig by Prof. Oded Lipschits and Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Manfred Oeming of Heidelberg University. The palace existed from the time of King Hezekiah until the Hasmonean period in the second century B.C.E.

The excavations revealed that the garden must have had a beautiful – and strategic – view, but it lacked its own water source. Thus the ancient landscape architects had to build channels and pools to collect rainwater for irrigation.

The archaeologists discovered that the garden’s designers had removed the original hard soil and replaced it with suitable garden soil. But until recently, they had no idea what was grown there.

Then, Lipschits said, he and his colleagues had a “wild thought”: If plasterers had worked on the garden walls in springtime, when flowers were blooming, breezes would have carried the pollen to the walls, where it would have become embedded in the plaster.

Enlisting the aid of Tel Aviv University archaeobotanist Dr. Dafna Langgut, they carefully peeled away layers of the plaster, revealing pollen from a number of plant species.

Most of the plants were wild, but in one layer of plaster, apparently from the Persian period  (the era of the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile in 538 B.C.E. ) they found pollen from ornamental species and fruit trees, some of which came from distant lands.

The find that most excited the scholars was pollen from etrogs, or citrons, a fruit that originated in India. This is the earliest botanical evidence of citrons in the country.

Scholars believe the citron came here via Persia, and that its Hebrew name, etrog, preserves the Persian name for the fruit – turung. They also say royal cultivation of the exotic newcomer was a means of advertising the king’s power and capabilities.

The garden at Ramat Rachel is also the first place in the country to yield evidence of the cultivation of myrtle and willow – two more of the four species used in Sukkot rituals.

Original Article:


By Zafrir Rinat February 20, 2012

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