Culture

Rings made of cereals found at a Bronze Age site in Austria

Strange ring-shaped objects found at a Bronze Age site represent a unique form of cereal-based product, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE by researchers from the Austrian Archaeological Institute.

Agricultural practices are well documented in the archaeological record, but the way food was produced and prepared by ancient cultures is not. In the study, Andreas G. Heiss and his collaborators describe unusual rings made of cereals found at the Late Bronze Age site of Stillfried an der March in Austria.

Dating to around 900-1000 BC, archaeological materials from around 100 wells believed to have been used for grain storage have been excavated at this settlement.

Aerial view and location of the Stillfried site / photo Aerial Archive, Department of Prehistoric and Historical Archaeology, University of Vienna

The study focuses on the charred fragmentary remains of three ring-shaped objects, each about three centimeters in diameter. Analysis confirms that they are made from dough derived from barley and wheat.

The authors were able to determine that the dough was made from good quality flour and was then probably formed from a moist mixture of cereals and dried without baking.

The carbonized organic rings found / photo ÖAW-ÖAI – N.Gail

This time-consuming preparation process differs from other foods found at the site, leading the authors to suggest that these cereal rings may not have been made for consumption.

Additionally, they bear a striking resemblance to 14 clay rings interpreted as loom weights found in the same area, indicating they may have been designed to mimic them. The unusual context of these cereal rings and the care with which they were made suggests that they may have been created for some unknown ritual purpose, thus being a form of cereal use hitherto unheard of in the archaeological record.

The good general state of preservation of the organic ring fragments suggests that they were deposited intact at the bottom of the pit and intentionally covered, which allowed their preservation.


Sources

Heiss AG, Antolín F, Berihuete Azorín M, Biederer B, Erlach R, Gail N, et al. (2019) The Hoard of the Rings. “Odd” annular bread-like objects as a case study for cereal-product diversity at the Late Bronze Age hillfort site of Stillfried (Lower Austria). PLoS ONE 14(6): e0216907. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216907/ScienceDaily.


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