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The nutritional habits in prehistoric Cyprus: 7.000-2.300 BC

Introduction: Many studies have been done for the past and evolution of our nutritional habits through the centuries. Dietary habits or changes give evidence for the environment, the status of civilization and the cultural morals of people. Taking into account that "Mediterranean diet" is considered to be the "ideal" diet, it would be very interesting to present the nutritional habits of our ancestors in Cyprus, during the prehistoric times.

The aim of our study was to present the dietary habits prevailing during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic period in Cyprus, as well as the evolution of the "Mediterranean" diet.
 
Materials-Methods: We took evidence from 16 archaeological sites, 9 of the Neolithic period (7.000-3.800 BC) and took 7 of the Chalcolithic period (3.800-2.300 BC). The organic residues, like animal/fish bones, seeds, shells etc, found to the above-mentioned excavated sites and the analytical studies that have been performed (pollen analysis, chemical analysis of peats, etc), gave us many data for the reconstruction of the nutritional habits and the paleoenvironment of Prehistoric Cyprus.
 
Results: The study of the above-mentioned excavational data proved that:

  • The cultivation of cereals is very common in Prehistoric Cyprus, where triticum monococcum and triticum diococcum (wheat) are the most representative species. Barley (Hor deum vulgare), is sparsely represented, although in a Chalcolithic site named Lemba, near the city of Pafos, there are indications for local production of a drink made of barley - an early production of beer(?).
  • Lentils, peas, almonds, plums, peanuts, grapes, figs, olives, caper etc are included to the daily diet of the prehistoric people. It is noted that there are no indications for the cultivation of olives during this period.
  • During the Neolithic period, deer (Dama mesopotamica) constitutes the main source of food, whereas pigs and goats are present in a lower rate. Reversely, during the Chalcolithic period, a reduction of deer consumption together with an increase of goat-pigs consumption is observed.
  • Fishing, is also another important habit of Prehistoric Cypriots, but we do not have much evidence due to bad conservation of residues. The most dominant species are perches (Serranides), bass fishes Labrides), sea breams (Sparides) and many shells (Charonia, Patella).

Conclusions:

  • The nutritional habits, the absence of presence of some species, are strongly connected to the environmental changes occurred in prehistoric times and the "technological" evolution of prehistoric people.
  • It is evident that plant-cultivation and cattle breeding characterize the onset of the Neolithic period in Cyprus.
  • The nutritional habits have not changed very much from the Neolithic to Chalcolithic era. Some changes (e.g. decrease of deer-consumption in Chalcolithic period) are mainly related to the evolution of the human civilization and the local environmental changes.
  • Dietary habits are also dependent of the geographical area of the studied sites. In sea-side sites the consumption of fish is higher than in mountainous areas.

The diet in prehistoric Cyprus is typical "Mediterranean"


K. Theodorakopoulou, 'N.C.S.R. Demokritos', Greece
P. Theodorakopoulos, University of Thrace, Greece

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