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Was einkorn a cultural food of the Lombard people?

In central Italy evidence of an Early Medieval cultivation

Einkorn field (Photo courtesy by Sten Porse - Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons).
The Medieval castle of Miranduolo, near Siena, is a rural settlement with a long sequence of occupation between the 8th and the 11th centuries AD. Our team, analysing plant remains from floors, silos and storing surfaces, discovered that cereal production in Miranduolo was based on bread wheat (Triticum aestivum/durum) and einkorn (T. monococcum) in the phase of the Lombard farming village (8th and 9th centuries AD).

Einkorn is a primitive cereal, one of the first plants domesticated and cultivated, therefore it has unfavourable characteristics than other “recent” cereals: einkorn is a hulled wheat, with tough glumes that tightly enclose the grains, making difficult the threshing; it produces mainly one grain per spikelet; it is characterized by delicate ears and spikelets that cause lodging. For this reasons, the einkorn cultivation is not attested in the Roman period. In the poor soils of Miranduolo, einkorn could adapt better than bread wheat because of its hardiness, however the Lombard settlers knew and could cultivate cereals more productive under adverse growing conditions and also easier to process than einkorn, such as rye (Secale cereale), emmer (T. dicoccum) and barley (Hordeum vulgare).

In the Early Middle Age, einkorn characterized the cereal assemblages both in urban and rural sites in northern and central Italy, often being more abundant than naked wheats, rye and barley. As well as in Miranduolo, these areas were mainly settled by Lombards, a Scandinavian population found in Italy from AD 569 until 774. Thus einkorn should be considered a cereal cultivated by the Lombard people for cultural reasons and/or eating preference. In spite of its primitive characteristics, einkorn has a higher percentage of protein than bread wheat and can be considered more nutritious because it has also higher levels of fat, phosphorus, potassium, pyridoxine, and beta-carotene; moreover, einkorn produces bread with characteristics comparable to the best wheat breads.


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Related papers

Buonincontri, M., Moser, D., Allevato, E., Basile, B., & Di Pasquale, G. (2014). Farming in a rural settlement in central Italy: cultural and environmental implications of crop production through the transition from Lombard to Frankish influence (8th–11th centuries A.D.). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 23(6), 775-778. doi:10.1007/s00334-013-0429-8