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Botanical Aspects of Environment and Economy at Gordion, Turkey

Botanical Aspects of Environment and Economy at Gordion, Turkey

By Naomi F. Miller. Pp. 160, figs. 52, CD-ROM 1. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia 2010. $69.95. ISBN 978-1-934536-15-5 (cloth).

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In Botanical Aspects of Environment and Economy at Gordion, Turkey, Miller reports on her analysis of charcoal and charred seeds from the site of Gordion. Famous in Greek mythology as the home of the Phrygian king Midas, Gordion is where Alexander the Great cut the cord on the yoke of Gordion’s wagon (“cutting the Gordion knot”), allowing him to claim his destiny to rule Asia. The site features a 13 ha citadel mound (Yassıhöyük), surrounded by a 51 ha inner town and fortification system (Kuçuk Hoyuk and Kuş Tepe) and an outer town with a settlement covering 1.5 km². Surrounding Gordion is a landscape of more than 100 Phrygian burial mounds, including the largest, Tumulus MM (the “Midas Mound”). Situated in the Sakarya River valley, Gordion lies at a crossroad for north–south (the Sakarya River flows north to the Black Sea) and east–west trade routes in central Anatolia. The ancient town was founded in the Early Bronze Age (late third millennium B.C.E.) and was part of the Hittite empire during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. The main occupation of the town and establishment of the royal precinct occurred in the Phrygian period (950–330 B.C.E.). Today, local vegetation forms a perennial grass and shrub (Artemisia) steppe; Miller’s data, along with animal remains, shed light on the agropastoral economy of this landscape over the millennia since the Bronze Age.

A team from the University of Pennsylvania, directed by Rodney Young, excavated Gordion between 1950 and 1974. Renewed excavations in 1988 and 1989, directed by Mary Voigt, generated the archaeobotanical collection upon which Miller’s study is based. Miller reports on charcoal and seeds from the Late Bronze Age through the Hellenistic and the Medieval periods. Archaeological excavations at Gordion revealed that a catastrophic fire burned much of the central part of the citadel mound, including eight buildings associated with elite residences, in a conflagration at the end of the Early Phrygian period (900–800 B.C.E.). The abundant wood charcoal resulting from this fire reveals that pine timbers were used in the construction of these monumental buildings; small amounts of oak charcoal in the destruction layer are suggested to have come from furnishings within the buildings. Carbonized seeds of wheat, barley, lentils, and bitter vetch were stored in jars and found on the floors of the buildings. The Middle Phrygian period (800–540 B.C.E.) represents the height of prosperity at Gordion as demonstrated by architectural, agricultural, and economic expansion in the eighth century B.C.E., although portions of the site were occupied through the Roman period (second half of the first century B.C.E.), as well as in Medieval times (13th–14th centuries C.E.).

Miller’s book includes (1) an overview of the archaeology of Gordion, (2) a discussion of its surrounding landscape and land use, (3) detailed descriptions of the field and laboratory methods employed, (4) an analysis of wood charcoal at Gordion, (5) interpretations of flotation samples over time and space, (6) an interpretative chapter that contributes to our understanding of the ancient land use and environment of Gordion specifically and in southwest Asia more broadly, and (7) detailed appendices of her data. From Miller’s book, we learn that the inhabitants of Gordion cultivated the expected crops of hulled barley, einkorn, emmer, bread wheat, rice (in the Medieval periods), millet, lentil, bitter vetch, chickpea, and possibly pea, flax, and grape. Almond (both cultivated and possibly wild) and wild pistachio were also recovered. Perhaps more insightfully, Miller’s use of seed-to-charcoal ratios provides valuable comparisons on the use of dung fuel compared with wood. Interestingly, fuel from dung cakes was used to make gypsum plaster. Miller informs us that the greater density of sheep and goat dung made it preferable to cow dung, and that the compactness of this fuel source was particularly enhanced when these animals were kept in stalls during the cold winters of Anatolia. We learn that wood fuel was available to the inhabitants throughout the sequence, suggesting that Gordion was surrounded by a forest-steppe or open woodland environment and did not experience the deforestation seen at other sites in the region (e.g., Tal-i Malyan). Based on the identification of rachis fragments, most of the hulled barley is the two-row type, preferred for making beer, rather than the six-row type, which was more likely used for animal fodder. Bread and macaroni wheat are also common free-threshing wheat varieties.

The appendices include abundant practical information and readily usable data: Appendix A presents laboratory procedures for sorting and recording data from flotation samples, including Miller’s lab recording form, while appendix B details the wood charcoal identification criteria. Data provided in appendices C–F also can be found on the CD-ROM that accompanies the book. Appendix C describes a vegetation survey of the Gordion region, including plant species data for 26 localities within 2 km of the ancient city. The CD-ROM contains a variety of high-quality photographs of the vegetation in the vicinity of Gordion that evoke a feel for the past landscape, as well as that of today. Appendix D provides seed descriptions (according to plant family) of the wild and weedy taxa found in the flotation samples as well as general observations about where the plant grows in the environment today. More than 130 drawings (plus five photographs) of the seeds, along with descriptions of them and of many other seed types, offer valuable assistance for the identification of lesser-known crop followers and weeds found in agricultural fields, many of which may be eaten as greens or used as spices. Miller’s well-executed drawings, which provide an excellent complement to seed illustrations from archaeological sites in the Levant published by van Zeist and Bakker-Heeres (“Archaeobotanical Studies in the Levant, 1. Neolithic Sites in the Damascus Basin: Aswad, Ghoraifé, Ramad,” Palaeohistoria 24 [1982/1985] 165–256; “Archaeobotanical Studies in the Levant, 2. Neolithic and Halaf Levels at Ras Shamra,” Palaeohistoria 26 [1984/1986] 151–70; “Archaeobotanical Studies in the Levant, 3. Late-Paleolithic Mureybit,” Palaeohistoria 26 [1984/1986] 171–99; “Archaeobotanical Studies in the Levant, 4. Bronze Age Sites on the North Syrian Euphrates,” Palaeohistoria 27 [1985/1986] 247–316), are reason enough to buy this book.

Appendices E and F, found in the text and on the CD-ROM as Excel spreadsheets and comma-delimited formats, provide the meat of the book. Appendix E is an inventory of 282 handpicked wood charcoal samples by provenance, number of pieces of charcoal, and weight of charcoal by genera. Appendix F provides (1) an inventory of 252 flotation samples by provenance and occupation period and (2) data for seed counts and weights of economic plant species and counts of wild and weedy taxa found in the archaeological flotation samples from Gordion. These data offer a wealth of information about wood construction at Gordion, fuel use, food, and other economic crops, as well as indicator plants in the surrounding landscape.

This book draws on Miller’s expertise, developed over 30 years of analyzing seeds and charcoal from the Middle East in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, as well as her personal observations of the flora, landscape, and local agricultural practices in villages today. The volume supplies a wealth of knowledge, insights, and data that can be compared with archaeological data from other times and places in the region. This book is an absolute must for university and research libraries as a reference for archaeobotanists and archaeologists working to understand the ancient landscapes of Turkey and Upper Mesopotamia.

Patricia L. Fall
School of Geographical Sciences
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona 85287

Book Review of Botanical Aspects of Environment and Economy at Gordion, Turkey, by Naomi F. Miller

Reviewed by Patricia L. Fall

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 1 (January 2012)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1161.Fall

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