A DNA analysis of ancient storage jars suggests that Greek sailors traded a wide range of foods—not just wine, as many historians have assumed. The study, in press at theJournal of Archaeological Science, finds evidence in nine jars taken from Mediterranean shipwrecks of vegetables, herbs and nuts. The researchers say DNA testing of underwater artifacts from different time periods could help to reveal how such complex markets developed across the Mediterranean.
Archaeologist Brendan Foley of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts and geneticist Maria Hansson of Lund University, Sweden, retrieved DNA from nine amphorae—the storage containers of the ancient world—from sunken ships dating from the fifth to the third centuries BC.
The researchers found grape DNA—as would be expected for containers of wine—in only five of the nine jars, and olive DNA, possibly from olive oil, in six of them. Other ‘hits’ included DNA from legumes, ginger, walnut and juniper and from herbs such as mint, thyme and oregano. Read more.