Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Back from a major archaeobotany conference, Paris

I recently participated in a major archaeobotany conference in Paris. The conference was the 17th meeting of the International Work Group for Palaeoethnobotany. It was a great success. Around 250 researchers from 35 countries came together in the beautiful surroundings of the National Museum for Natural History to discuss the latest research and new approaches in archaeobotany, catch up with old friends and meet new people. The IWGP conference is always one of my favourites -- great research, a supportive atmosphere, but also plenty of constructive criticism!

I presented a poster at the conference, entitled Tracking the spread of oat in Atlantic Europe. Oat is a crop that I find very interesting. Oat was domesticated several thousand years after wheat and barley. We don't see firm evidence for domesticated oat in Ireland until the early medieval period, several centuries after it began to be farmed elsewhere in northern Europe. But when oat arrived into Ireland, it became very popular in a relatively short period. Documentary sources suggest that oat was a relatively low-status cereal -- perhaps an everyday food. Oat would have been used to make flatbreads and oatcakes, porridges, gruels, ales and other food products.
Admiring at fig tree at Versailles

After five day of lectures at the conference, we were delighted to have a day out for the conference fieldtrip. We visited the Potager du Roi (King's kitchen garden) at the Palace of Versailles, which was created in the 17th century to provide fruit and vegetables for the table of the court of Louis XIV. A student of landscape architecture at the École Nationale Supérieure du Paysage gave us a wonderful tour, introducing us to the plants and the complex social history of the garden. Innovative techniques were used to create micro-climates in the garden during the 17th century, thus enabling the growing of produce out of season. This would have been very impressive for visitors to the court of Louis XIV -- the king who appeared to control nature.

Thanks to our colleagues in Paris for a wonderful conference in 2016. Now we are all looking forward to the next IWGP conference in 2019, which will be held in Lecce, southern Italy. 

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