Gathered fruits as grave goods? Cornelian cherry remains from a Mesolithic grave at the site of Vlasac, Danube Gorges, south-east Europe

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Abstract

Establishing the use and purpose of wild plant remains recovered from archaeological layers is in many cases far from straightforward. When discovered in a mortuary context, they are generally interpreted as remnants of ritual eating or drinking, offerings to the dead, or mnemonics, if not as accidental inclusions in the grave fills. In the Mesolithic cremation graves at the site of Vlasac in the Danube Gorges, south-east Europe, Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas L.) fruit stones were discovered; in one case, their number was relatively high. Whereas the fruit stones could simply be regarded as contamination in the burial fill, this study investigates an alternative possibility – that the cherries, or just fruit stones, represented an element of the Mesolithic funerary ritual at Vlasac. The archaeological context in which this plant material was discovered is taken as fundamental to the understanding of taphonomy of the botanical evidence and so it was considered in detail. Examination of the relevant morphological properties and the experimental charring of modern Cornelian cherry fruit and fruit stones enabled reconstruction of the conditions and state in which the fruit stones burned. The results suggest that Cornelian cherry fruit could have had a symbolic role in the complex funerary ritual performed by the Mesolithic community, a role that was meant to ensure the memory of, and a link with, the deceased. This adds to the current understanding of multiple potential uses of wild plants in the past and, excitingly, points to their role in mortuary practices as early as the Mesolithic.

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Filipović, D., Akšić, M. F., Zagorac, D. D., & Natić, M. (2020). Gathered fruits as grave goods? Cornelian cherry remains from a Mesolithic grave at the site of Vlasac, Danube Gorges, south-east Europe. Quaternary International, 541, 130–140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2019.10.018

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