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Accueil du site > Projets ANR > ANR EXSUDARCH > Présentation du projet EXSUDARCH > EXSUDARCH Project abstract

EXSUDARCH Project abstract

Among materials that have been exploited over time, natural substances are probably the most challenging to study. Issued from organic biomaterials such as resins, beeswax, animal fats or vegetal oils, they are preserved at low amount as amorphous organic residues and are often difficult to detect at the archaeological field. They give evidence for the use of animal, plant and fossil products that were of great importance for various aspects of human life, including diet, medicine, funerary rituals, economic and technical activities. Because they lack recognisable morphological attributes, the only way to determine their nature and origin relies on the development of analytical strategies that allow elucidation of their chemical composition.

This proposal is focused on the study of the exploitation of fresh and fossil plant exsudates and tars. All these substances share common features in the field of archaeology and chemistry : they are made of complex molecular mixtures, they contain terpenoid components, they are often preserved at low amount and they were used for common purposes (hafting lithic and bone tools ; mending, decorating or waterproofing ceramic vessels, etc.). In some cases, these materials were mixed with various adjuvants such as beeswax, vegetal oils, animal fats, clay, ochre, …, that will also be considered in this project.

Surprisingly, despite the first interest of researchers for bitumen, vegetal resins and tars as early as the 19th century, no systematic study was carried out on such materials. While these substances are of prime importance in ancient societies due to their role in subsistence strategies, medicine and rituals, only partial and occasional data are thus available.

This is why we decided to develop the present interdisciplinary research programme based upon complementary approaches including archaeology, analytical chemistry and archaeobotany.

At this stage of the research, it would be a non-sense to focus on a narrow chronological and / or geographic area. Indeed, the study of such remains is still quite young and before developing detailed research on specific points, we first need to gain an overview of the sites in which plant amorphous remains are preserved and, of the diversity of materials exploited. We will first proceed to the inventory of samples issued from a large geo-chronological zone, from western Europe to eastern mediterranean region, from Neolithic to recent periods, and we will then focus on geo-chronological windows for which numerous series of samples are available and specific archaeological questions have to be addressed.

Our purpose is to better understand the socio-economic systems of production, from acquisition to utilisations, of fresh and fossil plant exudates / tars and their evolution over time. The putative causes of this evolution will also be considered (climatic changes, cultural evolution, change of trade/exchange networks, etc.), as well as strategies of plant management. The most striking aspect of this project is the development of a multi-sided methodology that allows overcoming the physico-chemical characterisation of the materials studied to reach socio-economic information on the systems of exploitation of plant substances over time, by combining chemical and archaeobotanical data. At the end of this project, we hope that we could pass from a fragmentary knowledge to an extended overview of plant exudates and tars exploitation. The choice of diachronic study will highlight the continuity and discontinuity of use of the materials identified and the evolution of their modes of production.