Archaeobotany…what is it ?

Most of the knowledge about plants used by past human societies is based on archaeobotany. This discipline studies the remains of cultivated plants (grains, rachis, glume), seeds/fruits of wild plants and weeds discovered on archaeological sites.

These charred or waterlogged plant macroremains are often poorly preserved. After field sampling and soil sieving, morphological identification of plant organs is the first step in archaeobotanical analysis. Tools and methods, integrating a large number of disciplinary fields, are used to extract the maximum amount of information and allow their interpretation. These are mainly the weeds auto-ecology, isotopic analyses and geometric-morphometry.

What about opium poppy ?

The archaeological opium poppy remains are the most direct witnesses of the use of the plant well before the first textual or iconographic evidences. Seeds, very rarely capsules and stigmatic discs, are discovered in charred and/or waterlogged form on archaeological sites.

Charred seeds of Buchères “Parc logistique de l’Aube”. Photo: F. Toulemonde (see Toulemonde et al. 2021). Scale 0.5 mm.

Their identification requires a long and meticulous work which goes from adapted field sampling and water sieving strategies, then to the long and tedious sorting of macroremains under a binocular loup. The poppy seed is very small (<1 mm in diameter) and its oleaginous content makes it difficult to preserve after carbonization, which is the most common method of preserving plant remains on archaeological sites.

Waterlogged seeds, Arbon Bleiche 3. Photo: G. Haldimann (see Jacomet 2009).

Thus, the discovery of 7000 yrs old opium poppy seeds on archaeological sites is in itself challenging ! The archaeological macroremains is the basis for scenarios on the domestication and early diffusion of the opium poppy and constitutes the foundation of the ongoing project.


Jacomet S. (2009) ‒ Plant economy and village life in Neolithic lake dwellings at the time of the Alpine Iceman, Vegetation history and archaeobotany, 18, 1, p. 47‑59.

Toulemonde F., Daoulas G., Bonnaire E., Riquier V., Wiethold J., Zech-Matterne V. (2021) ‒ A brief history of plants in north-eastern France: 6,000 years of crop introduction in the Plain of Troyes, Champagne, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 30, 1, p. 5‑19.

To know more

International Work Group for Palaeoethnobotany website.

Citer ce billet
Aurélie Salavert (2022, 9 juin). Archaeobotany…what is it ? Opium Poppy. Consulté le 25 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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