Database and C14 dating

This project is based on the archaeological evidence of opium poppy. Indeed, the seeds, less often the capsules, are the most direct witnesses of the presence and use of the plant at a given time and place. Therefore, it is essential to create a database including the most complete archaeological evidence coupled with the direct dating of poppy seeds on key sites that will allow us to establish solid chrono-cultural milestones of the diffusion of the opium poppy in the past.


In the continuity of the inventory initiated during the Fyssen project for the Early Neolithic period, the database will integrate an exhaustive review of archaeological records to reveal the trajectories and the chrono-cultural framework of opium poppy dispersal from the Early Neolithic (6000 cal BC) to the end of the Iron Age (50 cal BC). All the archaeological poppy remains, mainly seeds, will be inventored in a geographic range that will cover Europe, from the Balkans to the British Isles, North Africa (Maghreb and Egypt) and the Near-East. The archaeological contexts and existing radiocarbon dates, when available, will be critically examined on each site. The use of the open source
PostgreSQL server with the PostGIS plugin will ensure the compatibility of their planned transferring into the Geographic Information System QGIS©.

Figure 1., in Salavert et al., 2020
(A1) Dataset of the Early Neolithic sites where opium poppy remains have been identified. OpenStreetMap project (version 1.2.2), under ODbL 1.0 license. Contains redits: A. Salavert (AASPE, MNHN-CNRS), Map background credits: NASA 2016 (A2) Number of Early Neolithic sites where the plant is identified by chronological ranges. See original file: Fig 1. Salavert et al., 2020

Radiocarbon dates

The Fyssen project has set up a methodological protocol and evaluated the optimal size needed to obtain a reliable radiocarbon date with a good precision on a minute plant sample such as opium poppy seeds (Salavert et al. 2020).

A new series of AMS dating will be directly performed on opium poppy remains by selecting archaeological sites in the database and the collaboration of the international archaeobotanical network. These direct dates will assess its presence in a given region at a given time. This way, the presence of the plant will be considered as reliable on contemporary sites inventoried in the archaeological database, and dated, with radiocarbon or dendrochronology, on other materials (charcoal, bones, seeds, wood).

This methodological breakthrough relies on the support of the “Laboratoire de Datation par le Radiocarbone (LDR, coord. by A. Zazzo)” of the MNHN, with the support of the “Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement” (LSCE). The latter, hosts the compact AMS ECHoMICADAS and the micro-samples pre-treatment facilities.

ECHo-MICADAS, the mini radiocarbon dating System at Gif-sur-Yvette, France (photograph: F. Rhodes/CEA).

Salavert A., Zazzo A., Martin L., Antolín F., Gauthier C., Thil F., Tombret O., Bouby L., Manen C., Mineo M., Mueller-Bieniek A., Piqué R., Rottoli M., Rovira N., Toulemonde F., Vostrovská I. (2020) ‒ Direct dating reveals the early history of opium poppy in western Europe, Scientific Reports, 10, 1, p. 20263.

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