An archaeobotanical investigation of early Islamic agricultural economy in the Levant
Forste, Kathleen M.
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This dissertation reassesses earlier economic models of the agricultural systems of the Early Islamic period (c. 636–1099 CE) in the Levant in light of new empirical archaeological evidence. In the four journal articles that comprise this dissertation, I investigate the variability of agricultural economies at four Early Islamic sites in modern-day Israel through the analysis of archaeobotanical remains (seeds, fruit, plant parts, wood charcoal). In the first article, I analyze botanical remains from the coastal city of Ashkelon. I identify the suite of crops and agricultural practices employed, reconstruct local practices of arboriculture, and describe non-local plants available through regional trade. Spatial analyses identify private grain storage, preferred constructional materials, and the discrete separation of household and refuse space. Such analyses provide insights into the intersection of agricultural and artisan economies in an urban setting. In the second article, I combine historical and archaeological evidence to investigate arboriculture at Ashkelon. Arboriculture, the cultivation of long-lived perennial tree and vine crops that provide long term harvests of fruit, can be understood as investment in land and urban development. Integrated analysis of historical and archaeobotanical evidence indicates that the inhabitants of Ashkelon specialized in arboriculture as a means to supply both subsistence and craft economies. In the third article, I investigate the production and consumption of agricultural plant products at the coastal city of Caesarea Maritima. Spatial analysis of wood and non-wood plant remains, features, and artifacts reveals cereal processing debris across multiple rooms in a former warehouse, revealing a socioeconomic shift from a storage area to a crop processing space. Such a shift aligns with similar patterns of diversified uses of space that characterize the Early Islamic period in which the focus of economic production shifted away from export to local consumption. In the fourth article, I investigate how farmers’ agricultural choices were driven by political, social, and environmental conditions. Through an intersite analysis of archaeobotanical assemblages from four archaeological sites—coastal Ashkelon and Caesarea Maritima, and inland Tel Shimron and Neby Zakaria—I determine that production and consumption of plant resources are affected more by a settlement’s socioeconomic function than by its environmental setting.