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Nature Research, Scientific Reports, 1(8), 2018

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-22140-z



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Long-lasting ergot lipids as new biomarkers for assessing the presence of cereals and cereal products in archaeological vessels

This paper is made freely available by the publisher.
This paper is made freely available by the publisher.

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AbstractCereals were very important in ancient diets, however evidence from archaeological sites of the vessels used for processing or storing cereals is comparatively rare. Micro-organisms, as well as chemical-physical effects can easily degrade cereals during the burial period. This can lead to a complete cereal decay and to serious difficulties in estimating the intensity of use of the cereals by ancient populations. Here, we present a novel biomarker approach entailing the detection of secondary lipid metabolites produced by ergot fungi (genus Claviceps), which are common cereal pests. The aim was to identify the original presence of Gramineae and to indirectly establish if vessels were used for cereal storage/processing. The fatty acid and TAG-estolide profiles of the remains from more than 30 archaeological vessels were investigated by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) and high performance liquid chromatography/high resolution mass spectrometry (HPLC/ESI-Q-ToF). The detection of lipids derived from ergot in archaeological and historic contexts rests on its complex chemistry, providing a unique and relatively recalcitrant chemical signature for cereals. This research demonstrated that the combination of our innovative biomarker approach along with environmental and archaeological evidence can provide unprecedented insights into the incidence of cereals and related processing activities in ancient societies.