Documenting the history of the grapevine and viticulture: A quantitative eco-anatomical perspective applied to modern and archaeological charcoal

Publication date: December 2018

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 100

Author(s): Bertrand Limier, Sarah Ivorra, Laurent Bouby, Isabel Figueiral, Lucie Chabal, Manon Cabanis, Mohammed Ater, Thierry Lacombe, Jérôme Ros, Laurent Brémond, Jean-Frédéric Terral


The history of the grapevine and viticulture is well documented by an extensive and rich corpus of textual, iconographic, archaeological, archaeobotanical and morphometric data. However, until now, grapevine charcoal remains from archaeological contexts were largely underexploited. In this study we describe the development of a quantitative anatomical method which aims to discriminate between the wild and cultivated grapevines based on a reference collection of modern individuals. The plasticity of grapevine anatomical characters was quantified in relation to maturity or age of wood and environmental conditions. For the first time, quantitative eco-anatomical features of charcoal from archaeological sites (South of France, Bronze Age – Modern Period) were compared to the reference models established beforehand. This procedure allowed us to identify the status (wild or cultivated-domesticated) of certain sub-fossil samples. Our results complement data from archaeobotany and from traditional and geometric morphometric analyses of Vitis pips. They confirm the collection/use of the wild grapevine during the Bronze Age and the exploitation of cultivated forms on coastal or near coastal sites (Mediterranean), from the Iron Age up to the Modern Period. Furthermore, the question of an early grapevine cultivation (5th c. BCE) in regions away from the sea is raised for the first time.