Philistines introduced opium, cumin to Israel during Iron Age

By: | Published: August 30, 2015 10:18 PM

Philistines brought sycamore, cumin and opium poppy into Israel during the Iron Age, a new study has found.

Philistines brought sycamore, cumin and opium poppy into Israel during the Iron Age, a new study has found.

In the study, a team led by archaeologists from Bar-Ilan University and the Hebrew University described the bio-archaeological remains of the Philistine culture during the Iron Age (12th century to 7th century BCE).

Researchers compiled a database of plant remains extracted from Bronze and Iron Ages sites in the southern Levant, both Philistine and non-Philistine.

By analysing this database, the researchers concluded that the Philistines brought to Israel not just themselves but also their plants. The species they brought were all cultivars that had not been seen in Israel previously.

This includes edible parts of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) which originates in western Europe; the sycamore tree (Ficus sycomorus), whose fruits are known to be cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean, especially Egypt, and whose presence in Israel as a locally grown tree is first attested to in the Iron Age by the presence of its fruit; and finally, cumin (Cuminum cyminum), a spice originating in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“The edible parts of these species – opium poppy, sycamore, and cumin – were not identified in the archaeobotanical record of Israel prior to the Iron Age, when the Philistine culture first appeared in the region,” said Sue Frumin, a PhD student at the Bar-Ilan University.

“None of these plants grows wild in Israel today, but instead grows only as cultivated plants,” Frumin said.

In addition to the translocation of exotic plants from other regions, the Philistines were the first community to exploit over 70 species of synanthropic plants (species which benefit from living in the vicinity of man) that were locally available in Israel.

These plant species were not found in archaeological sites pre-dating the Iron Age, or in Iron Age archaeological sites recognised as belonging to non-Philistine cultures – Canaanite, Israelite, Judahite, and Phoenician.

The fact that the three exotic plants introduced by the Philistines originate from different regions accords well with the diverse geographic origin of these people.

The Philistines – one of the so called Sea Peoples – were a multi-ethnic community with origins in the Aegean, Turkey, Cyprus and other regions in the Eastern Mediterranean who settled on the southern coastal plain of Israel in the early Iron Age, and integrated with Canaanite and other local populations, finally to disappear at the end of the Iron Age.

The results of the research indicate that the presence of the Philistine culture in Israel had a major and long-term impact on local floral biodiversity.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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