Anthropology •  Archaeology and Middle East Studies

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Roman Foodprints at Berenike: Archaeobotanical Evidence of Subsistence and Trade in the Eastern Desert of Egypt

René T. J. Cappers

During the Graeco-Roman period, Berenike served as a gateway to the outside world together with Myos Hormos. Commodities were imported from Africa south of the Sahara, Arabia, and India into the Greek and Roman Empire, the importance of both harbors evidenced by several contemporary sources. Between 1994 and 2002, eight excavation seasons were conducted at Berenike by the University of Delaware and Leiden University, the Netherlands. This book presents the results of the archaeobotanical research of the Roman deposits. It is shown that the study of a transit port such as Berenike, located at the southeastern fringe of the Roman Empire, is highly effective in producing new information on the import of all kinds of luxury items. In addition to the huge quantities of black pepper, plant remains of more than 60 cultivated plant species could be evidenced, several of them for the first time in an archaeobotanical context. For each plant species detailed information on its (possible) origin, its use, its preservation qualities, and the Egyptian subfossil record is provided. The interpretation of the cultivated plants, including the possibilities of cultivation in Berenike proper, is supported by ethnoarchaeobotanical research that has been conducted over the years. The reconstruction of the former environment is based on the many wild plant species that were found in Berenike and the study of the present desert vegetation.


René T.J. Cappers (University of Groningen, the Netherlands) has specialized in the archaeobotany of the Near East and Egypt.


"Summing up, this useful and interesting book is a precious tool for anyone wanting to explore the world of archaeobotany; at the same time, it is an easy read for non-experts intent on discovering the history of Berenike from a different perspective."

–Anna Maria Mercuri Antiquity 2007 (81:313): 806-807


"The book is beautifully produced, with an abundance of highly useful maps, tables and black and white photographs. The colour photograph section at the end offers a real sense of the landscape and natural world surrounding the sites.
The book is exemplary in its presentation and analysis of difficult archaeological data in a way that is intelligent, engaging and understandable for both specialists and non-specialists alike, and it will no doubt serve as a highly valuable tool for both archaeologists and ancient historians researching Roman trade with the east and Roman settlement in the Egyptian Eastern Desert for many years to come."

- Arjan Zuiderhoek, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.10.41


Published By The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press

8.5 x 11 in. 248 pages 56 color plates, 138 figures, 10 tables