University of Leicester
U105210.pdf (41.25 MB)

The agricultural economy and practice of an Egyptian late antique monastery : an archaeobotanical case study

Download (41.25 MB)
posted on 2014-12-15, 10:42 authored by Katharine Wendy McLaughlin. Smith
This thesis explores the extent to which archaeobotany can contribute to the largely historically-based discussion of the role monasteries played in the Late Antique (4th - 7th centuries AD) agricultural economy in Egypt. The archaeobotanical assemblage collected from the excavations of a Late Antique monastery at Kom el-Nana, Middle Egypt (AD 400 - 750) is used for this purpose.;The methodology employed in the field, laboratory and statistical analysis of this assemblage follows that already established in northern Europe. The possible uses of the economic and weed/wild plants recovered are fully discussed. By-products of crop processing or food production are abundant in these samples, suggesting that they are also of economic value at this site, most likely as fodder, fuel or temper. This result was confirmed by a study of the weed/wild taxa which showed that samples had evidence for a low harvesting height, indicating the intentional collection of plant stalks during harvests. A wide range of economic plants, including many condiments, were recovered at Kom el-Nana suggesting a more varied monastic diet than indicated by historical records.;The use of multivariate statistical analysis establishes that although there may be some post-deposition contamination (i.e. abandonment debris, decaying mudbrick etc.) these are not major contributing factors to the formation of these deposits.;The differences or similarities between carbonized and desiccated components of the Kom el-Nana assemblage are explored. Oven samples are the primary source of carbonized remains on site and many of the taxa identified in the desiccated component, especially fruit and condiments, are not recovered in the carbonized component.;In Late Antique Egypt cereal chaff is documented as a traded agricultural good and, therefore, it is argued that the use of cereal producer/consumer models is inappropriate in the Late Antique Egyptian context. Historical evidence is used to explain the absence of cereal grain and pulses from the Kom el-Nana assemblage. The archaeobotanical data from the Kom el-Nana oven samples indicate how different traditional fuels (i.e. crop processing by-products and animal dung) were used as fuel. These results demonstrate that integrating archaeobotanical and historical evidence is a successful method to address issues on agricultural economy and practice in this or any other historical period.


Date of award


Author affiliation


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



Usage metrics

    University of Leicester Theses


    No categories selected



    Ref. manager