CRC 1266 - Scales of Transformation

Phase 1 - Research activities 2016-2020

F3: Dynamics of Plant Economies in Ancient Societies

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Wiebke Kirleis
Staff: Dr. Dragana Filipović, Sofia Filatova


Research agenda

To understand the driving factors and components for transformative developments in subsistence regimes and their societal feedbacks, a multi-proxy approach will be applied in project F3 through the integration of quantifiable evidence from archaeobotany, archaeology/material culture and ethnography. In a diachronic perspective and for a geographical transect spanning from the Northern European Plain via East-Central Europe towards the Carpathian Basin, data from botanical macro-remain analyses will be compared with data from the material culture related to food acquisition and agricultural practices and be contrasted with ethnographic data to identify possible typologies of technological change in subsistence economy.

Study transect and collaborations with diachrone case studie
Fig. 1. Study transect and collaborations with diachrone case studies. (graphic: W. Kirleis)
Fig. 2. Charred plant remains. (photo: W. Kirleis)
Fig. 3. Experimental working with wheat. (photo: W. Kirleis)

Research activities


The work in 2017 within the F3 project has so far included sampling and analysis of charred and/or waterlogged archaeological material from sites in northern Germany, western Slovakia and central Hungary dating variously from the Early Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age. Additional acitivities have included participation in the experimental crop growing at AÖZA, collection of data for the archaeo-ethno-botanical database, production of interim archaeobotanical reports  and intensive communication with other SFB1266 projects in relation the research topics covered by the ‘SFB1266 interlinking groups’.

Fig. 1. Charred millet and barley grains from a large pit in Wismar.

The Late Bronze Age site of Wismar-Wendorf in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern comprised a number of differently sized and shaped pits. One of the larger ones yielded mass deposits of hulled barley grain (almost 30 kg!) and broomcorn millet, along with smaller amounts of emmer and naked barley grain, and seeds of a range of arable weeds.

Fig. 2. This year’s excavation in Vráble.

VrableFig. 3. Flotation in Vrable.

A Linearbandkeramik site of Vráble in central Slovakia, excavated within the C2 project, has produced a modest assemblage of, mostly, cereal remains. On the current evidence, einkorn and emmer seem to have been the most important crops for this settlement. A closer look at the trench-level data suggest differences in the preservation/deposition/use of einkorn and emmer between different areas of the site.

proportions of plant species einkorn and emmerproportions of plant species einkorn and emmerFig. 4. First insight into einkorn and emmer proportions at Vráble.

In the renewed excavations of the Neolithic site of Duvensee (after the previous ones in the 1990s), carried out by the C1 project, samples have been taken from layers of buried turf and they are expected to contain waterlogged plant material. Similar botanical preservation was encountered at the Neolithic sites near Oldenburg (also investigated by C1) where significant amounts of macro-remains of cultivated and wild flora were found in subfossil or charred state.

Working at the experimental area at the AÖZA in Albersdorf.Fig. 5. Working at the experimental area at the AÖZA in Albersdorf.​

As a joint activity of the projects F3 and D1 and colleagues from the Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte in Kiel, a small land area within the open-air museum of Archäologisch-Ökologisches Zentrum in Albersdorf (AÖZA) near Kiel, was turned into an agricultural plot. Several types of crops were manually sown (by placing the seeds in rows), regularly weeded (including botanical determination of the plucked weeds) and successfully harvested: einkorn, emmer, naked barley and flax/linseed.

FlyerKulturpflanzen der Jungsteinzeit. Experimenteller Anbau im des Archäologisch-Ökologischen Zentrum Albersdorf.

At this year's excavation season at the Bronze Age site of Kakucs-Turján in Hungary, the F3 project was involved both in archaeobotanical fieldwork (sampling and flotation) and in the excavation, especially of large (waste) pits. The pits were carefully and thoroughly sampled for macrobotanical remains and phytoliths. The samples will facilitate identification of distinct episodes of deposition of botanical material in these complex features.

Excavating a pit at Kakucs.
Fig. 6. Excavating a pit at Kakucs.

Together with colleagues from the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ and the Institut für Ur- und Fruhgeschichte, the F3 project took part in the Steinzeit Live event at the Arche Warder Animal Park on 8 October. The youngest of the visitors had fun using stones to crack hazelnuts that we roasted on the spot, and learning about different plants that we find in archaeobotanical records.

Roasting and cracking hazelnuts at Arche Warder “Steinzeit Live”.Fig. 7. Roasting and cracking hazelnuts at Arche Warder “Steinzeit Live”.


In its 'exploratory' phase (year 2017), F3-project tested the potential and suitability of different methodological approaches and available arhaeobotanical datasets to address the general SFB1266-theme of transformations at different scales in the past. In 2018, the selected methods were applied on a range of case-study sites and assemblages. In this, multiple collaborations were established both within and beyond SFB-projects that, in 2018, led to the production and collation of a large body of data and to the preparation of multi-authored manuscripts submitted for publication; the results were also presented at several key conferences in Europe and at an invited lecture Link by Dragana Filipović in Vienna.

The dynamics of plant production and consumption in the past was studied at the level of household (case-study Kakucs-Turján), settlement (Vráble in Slovakia; Oldenburg LA232, Oldenburg LA191, Oldenburg LA77 in northern Germany), micro-region (Oldenburger Graben in northern Germany), region (Carpathian Basin) and macro-region/subcontinent (central and northern Europe). The previously collected detailed archaeobotanical data were updated and new primary data produced; they are now all stored in the UFG-Kiel ArboDat database (with the great help of UFG's archaeobotany-technician Tanja Reiser) and represent a basis for future studies. Besides archaeobotanical approaches, F3 expanded its analytical basis to include the study of stable isotope ratios in charred plant remains, in order to better understand growing conditions of plants in the past. Initial results for the site of Oldenburg LA77 were shown on a poster at the 39th Conference of the Association for Environmental Archaeology Link in Aarhus, 29 November-1 December 2018.

Dragana Filipović and Sonja Filatova took part in the XVIII Congress of the International Union of the Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences (UISPP) Link in Paris, 4-9 June 2018, by giving three oral and one poster presentations of the results of SFB cross-disciplinary studies (with projects C1, C2 and F2) in northern Germany Link and eastern Slovakia Link, and of the archaeobotanical investigations within the international archaeological expedition at the site of Kakucs-Turján in Hungary. Link

Charred einkorn grains from the site of Vráble in Slovakia Photo by D. Filipović
Fig. 1. Charred einkorn grains from the site of Vráble in Slovakia. (photo: D. Filipović)

At the 24th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists in Barcelona, 5-8 September 2018, SBF-projects F3 and D2 organised a session (#614) on 'Environment, food production and lifestyle in Bronze Age Europe' that hosted eleven oral and five poster presentations Link. Within the session, F3 project was represented by a talk and two posters showing the evidence of changing aspects of plant-use and food choices at the settlement- and regional scale based on the examples of Kakucs-Turján site and the sites in the southern Carpathian Basin and northern Germany.

Sonja Filatova presented the results of the archaeobotanical research focused on Kakucs-Turján, whilst also looking at the entire Bronze Age macro-plant assemblage from Hungary, at the Jahrestreffen der Arbeitsgruppe Archäobotanik der RTG organised by the University of Cologne in Xanten, 25-27 May 2018 and at the conference Lessons from the past: archaeology, anthropology and the future of food held in Oxford on 23 August 2018. Link

The archaeobotanical analysis at Kakucs-Turján was extended to include wood charcoal (in addition to non-wood macro-plant remains), thanks to the course organised by Dr. Hannes Knapp in Kiel on Praktische Einführung in die Holz- und Holzkohlenanalyse, between 26 February and 2 March 2018 that was attended by Sonja Filatova.

In collaboration with SFB-projects G1 and D1, Dragana Filipović initiated the 'Millet Dating Programme', with the short-term aim of establishing high-resolution chronological frame for the appearance of broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum L.) in Europe and for its full inclusion in the agrarian production systems. A long-term goal is to explore how the adoption of this new crop articulated with other aspects of agricultural economy, technological and socio-political developments.

Sites in northern Germany from which broomcorn millet grains were submitted for radiocarbon dating Map by D. Filipović
Fig. 2. Sites in northern Germany from which broomcorn millet grains were submitted for radiocarbon dating. (map: D. Filipović)

Charred grains of broomcorn millet from the Late Bronze Age site of Wismar-Wendorf in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Photo by D. Filipović
Fig. 3. Charred grains of broomcorn millet from the Late Bronze Age site of Wismar-Wendorf in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. (photo: D. Filipović)

As part of the Millet Dating Programme, Wiebke Kirleis and Marta Dal Corso (D1) travelled to Kiev in March 2018 to meet the local archaeobotanist, Galyna Pashkevich, and to sample broomcorn millet remains from her archive at the Natural History Museum in Kiev. Wiebke Kirleis was then invited to participate in the Japanese/Ukrainian workshop Ukraine as the Crossroad for Agricultural Dispersal in Eurasia organised on 30-31 August 2018 at the Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University in Kiev.

Participants of the workshop in Kiev Photo Hiro Nasu
Fig. 4. Participants of the workshop in Kiev. (photo ©: H. Nasu)

Wiebke Kirleis and Sonja Filatova were involved in the organisation of the CRC1266 workshop Gender Transformations in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies in March 2018 Link

Throughout the year, cultivation of the ‘ancient crops’ continued at the Archaeologisch-Ökologisches Zentrum Albersdorf (AÖZA; Link).

Harvesting cereals at AÖZA Photo by A. Hoffmann
Harvesting cereals at AÖZA Photo by A. Hoffmann
Fig. 5. and Fig. 6. Harvesting cereals at AÖZA. (photo: A. Hoffmann)

Sonja Filatova participated in a workshop entitled “Writing a successful article“ organised by the Nordic Graduate School in Archaeology Dialogues with the Past and held in Rome, November 28-30.

Participants of the workshop in Rome Photo DialPast
Fig. 7. Participants of the workshop in Rome. (photo © : DialPast)


The major focus of F3 in 2019 was completing the work on publications and the doctoral thesis, as well as on preparing the proposal for phase 2 of the CRC1266. Several of the CRC1266 publications that came out this year were led by F3 or included collaboration with F3 (e.g. the archaeological case studies). Dragana Filipović prepared F3-contributions for the projects C1 (for two papers), D3 (for the doctoral thesis and a fieldwork report) and C2 (archaeobotany chapter and a contribution to a synthetic chapter in the Vráble site monograph); these publications are upcoming.

This year’s fieldwork took place at the site of Dobbin in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern where the D3 project excavated a Late Bronze Age settlement. Soil samples from pits and postholes were floated in the site’s vicinity, next to the water reservoir in a former peat-cutting area. The field activities will continue in the second phase of the CRC 1266, when the archaeobotanical analysis of the samples will also take place.

Flotation at Dobbin in October 2019
Fig. 1. 

Flotation at Dobbin in October 2019
Fig. 2. 

Abb. 1.-2. Flotation at Dobbin in October 2019 in different weather conditions. (photos: W. Kirleis)

In April, Wiebke Kirleis was invited to the Free University in Berlin, Institute for Prehistoric Archaeology to give a lecture on “Pflanzenökonomie im Wandel: Von den Anfängen des Ackerbaus im nördlichen Zentraleuropa zur Diversifizierung in der jüngeren Bronzezeit“. In May, she was an invited speaker at the Hüde-Conference held in Landesmuseum Hanover on “Stone Age border experience: Neolithic and Mesolithic parallel societies in the north European plain”. She gave a lecture on “Subsistence change: plant economy and Neolithisation”.

The F3 team took part in several international scientific meetings. At the International Open Workshop: Socio-Environmental Dynamics over the Last 12,000 Years: The Creation of Landscapes VI, organised in Kiel from the 11th to 16th March, F3 was represented by two oral and two poster presentations:

- Sofia Filatova had a poster entitled: “Defining the nature of a macrobotanical archive: a case-study from the Hungarian Carpathian Basin”.

- Wiebke Kirleis gave a talk on “Linking Bronze Age agricultural innovation with the allocation of land for crop growing in northern Germany”

- Dragana Filipović prepared a poster asking “Were there coinciding changes in agricultural practices and material culture at Middle Neolithic Oldenburg settlements in northern Germany?” and a talk that showed our research “Project Dynamics of plant economies in ancient societies: presentation of the results”.

Additionally, Wiebke Kirleis and Dragana Filipović were co-organisers of the session on the “Territoriality in Europe in the Bronze and Iron Age”. 

At the 18th Conference of the International Workgroup for Palaeoethnobotany (IWGP) in Lecce, Italy, between the 3rd and 8th of June, we presented the following papers: 

- “Ex Oriente seges: the arrival and establishment of broomcorn millet in Europe” authored by Dragana Filipović & Wiebke Kirleis (F3), John Meadows (G1), Marta Dal Corso (D1) and over 30 external co-authors, i.e. colleagues who cooperate on our ‘Millet Dating Programme’ (see our research activities for 2018);

- “Food production in the Bronze Age Danube River region: the case of Kakucs-Turján, Hungary” authored by Sofia Filatova & Wiebke Kirleis (F3);

- and a poster “Tracing the introduction and first dispersal of millet in Ukraine” authored by Marta Dal Corso (D1), Dragana Filipović & Wiebke Kirleis (F3), John Meadows (G1) and external collaborators.

F3 presentation at IWGP
Fig. 3. 

F3 presentation at IWGP
Fig. 4. 

Figs. 3.-4. F3 presentations at IWGP. (photos: SFB1266, Kelly Reed)

In the 20th Congress of the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA), held in Dublin between the 25th and 31st July, F3 participated with an oral presentation prepared by Wiebke Kirleis, Dragana Filipović and Stefanie Klooß“ Neolithic arable farming on the SW Baltic coast: insights based on crops, weeds and stable isotopes from Oldenburg sites” and a poster presentation prepared by Dragana Filipović, Stefanie Klooß and Wiebke Kirleis“ Neolithic plant economy in the SW Baltic area – a long-term perspective

F3 organised an international meeting of its own, in collaboration with D1 and G1 – this was the workshop entitled “Millet and what else? The wider context of the adoption of millet cultivation in Europe” that took place in Kiel from the 27-28th November. The workshop marked the closing of the ‘Millet Dating Programme’ and celebrated the large collaborative work of the European archaeobotanical community, while also providing a roadmap for future research and collaborations. Over 20 invited workshop participants – archaeobotanists, archaeological scientists, zooarchaeologists, ethnographers – talked about the dietary, economic and cultural context of the period in which the new crop, broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum), was introduced in Europe from regions to the east. They presented new results of the application of the state-of-the-art methods (such as stable isotope and biomolecular analysis) that trace millet consumption and millet meals in archaeological deposits, and discussed the agronomic and technological aspects of millet cultivation.

Millet workshop session
Fig. 5.

Millet workshop session
Fig. 6. 

Millet workshop session
Fig. 7.

Millet workshop session
Fig. 8. 

Millet workshop session
Fig. 9. 

Laboratory tour
Fig. 10.

Figs. 5.-10. Millet workshop sessions and laboratory tour (photo: G. Pashkevich)

Dragana Filipović and Sofia Filatova contributed to the presentation given by Kelly Reed (Oxford University) at the conference on “Prehistoric communities along the Danube” organised by the Archaeological Museum Osijek in Croatia. The talk showed “New insights into the diet and agriculture of Bronze Age communities in the Middle Danube”.


New Publications