Researchers from the Archaeobotanical Project of Arsur, located 15 km north of Tel Aviv, have uncovered valuable details about the eating habits of the Crusaders through the analysis of thousands of plant remains found at the site.

The site has been continuously inhabited from the 6th century BC to the 13th century AD. Founded by the Phoenicians, the city was renamed Apollonia during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Conquered by Muslims in 640, they restored its Semitic name, Arsuf.

In 1101, it was conquered by the Crusaders under the command of Baldwin I of Jerusalem, who called it Arsur. In 1265, Sultan Baibars, leading the Mamluks, captured the fortress and reduced it to its foundations, leaving it abandoned forever.

Excavations focused on three areas of the old walled core dating from the Crusader period, between the 12th and 13th centuries AD.

Archaeologists found a dump used as a cesspool containing over 12,000 mineralized fig stems, along with grapes, olives, and charred white mulberries. The large number of figs suggests their regular consumption, either fresh or dried for preservation.

Samples from another investigated area, corresponding to fills and layers of destruction, revealed a wide range of cereals such as wheat, barley, and possibly spelt, although in small quantities. Numerous legumes like lentils, chickpeas, broad beans, and peas stood out as an important source of proteins.

Spices were not lacking, with traces of cumin and carrots that likely seasoned and complemented the diet. Cumin was used as a condiment and in medicine, while carrots provided beta-carotene.

The olive tree and its olives were a fundamental part, with evidence of local cultivation and olive oil industry. Small milling facilities found allowed for food preparation.

The white mulberry, still of uncertain identification, could be the first evidence of textile cultivation in the region. Its presence might be linked to the silk industry during the Crusader period.

Comparative analyses with sites like Caesarea Maritima show similarities, revealing among the Crusaders a Mediterranean diet based on indigenous crops such as wheat, barley, legumes, and olives.

This innovative study provides valuable data on the continuity of agricultural and dietary patterns in the region during the Crusades, despite changes in population.


Sources

Andrea Orendi, Elisabeth Yehuda, Annette Zeischka-Kenzler & Oren Tal (2023) Flora in the Latin East: Archaeobotanical Remains from Crusader Arsur, Tel Aviv, 50:2, 263-288, DOI:10.1080/03344355.2023.2246822


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