Post-charring diagenetic alteration of archaeological lentils by bacterial degradation

G. Hartman, A. Brittingham, A. Gilboa, M. Hren, K. Maas, J. Pilver, E. Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ancient seeds recovered from archaeological contexts are typically protected from degradation through the process of low temperature charring (<300 °C). Resilient Maillard Reaction Products produced by charring are considered chemically stable, and thus, suitable for stable isotopic studies. A few high-profile reconstructions of past climate and human economies have been based on charred seeds. In this study we take a comprehensive structural, compositional, isotopic, and genetic approach to compare modern Eastern Mediterranean lentils with archaeological charred lentils recovered from Iron Age I layer Tel Dor, and five complementary southern Levantine sites ranging from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic to Persian periods. The modern lentils were charred at temperatures ranging from 100ᵒC - 400ᵒC and analyzed as a reference for the archaeological material. The modern and archaeological charred lentils were found to differ structurally, compositionally, and isotopically, challenging the notion that seed charring prevents further chemical alteration between the time of burial and recovery of the seeds. Genetic analysis of archaeological lentils revealed the presence of bacterial taxa capable of degrading chemical compounds considered stable in ambient burial conditions. We assume that microbial degradation is more likely to affect charred legumes than other seeds due to their high nitrogen content. We also acknowledge that different environments and burial conditions might promote better preservation of charred lentils. We call for the development and employment of archaeological legume screening methods that will help select seeds best suited for isotopic analyses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105119
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
StatePublished - May 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the following site directors who kindly donated charred archaeological lentils for this study: Hamoudi Khalaily and Edwin van den Brink from Israel Antiquity Authority; Avraham Faust and Aaron Meier from Bar-Ilan University; Ilan Sharon from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Yuval Gadot from the University of Tel-Aviv; and Daniel Master from Wheaton college. We would also like to thank John Olechnicki for technical assistance in the lab at the University of Connecticut.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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