CE27 - Culture, création, patrimoine

Early History of the Opium Poppy in Europe and Southwestern Asia – POPPY

Submission summary

The POPPY project aims to determine the origin and early diffusion of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum L.). Opium poppy could be the sole plant domesticated during the Neolithic period in Europe, at least from the middle of the sixth millennium. The main objectives of the project are to 1) identify the geographical origin(s) of poppy including the location(s) of its wild progenitor(s) and of its domestication, 2) define a chrono-cultural framework for its early domestication process and dispersal from Prehistory to the end of the Iron Age (6000-50 cal BC).
The POPPY project is based on archaeological material, as well as sampling of modern and historical biodiversity kept in seed banks and herbaria. It implements multidisciplinary analyses – archaeobotany, dating techniques, genomics, geometric morphometrics (GMM), spatial analyses – to elucidate the role of the opium poppy in Europe’s natural and cultural heritage.
The project (42 months) is structured around three complementary tasks. Task 1 will build a database that integrate an exhaustive review of archaeological records to reveal the trajectories and the chrono-cultural framework of poppy dispersal from the Early Neolithic (6000 cal BC) to the end of the Iron Age (50 cal BC). Based on an already validated methodology carried out in the frame of previous one-year project (Fondation Fyssen, 2018), this task will also produce a new series of radiocarbon dating directly performed on poppy remains at key sites located in Europe (from the Balkans to the British Isles), North Africa (Maghreb and Egypt) and the Near-East. It will confirm and track precisely the early dispersal of the plant. These results will be integrated and compared to the general radiocarbon framework provided by other materials (cereals, bones, wood, artefacts) on sites inventoried in the archaeological database.
Task 2 will consist in a co-analysis of the genetic and morphometric diversity (regional and varietal) of a common set of modern poppy and herbarium samples. The use of molecular markers such as SNPs in modern and sub-modern (herbaria) landraces of Papaver spp. will identify its wild progenitor(s) as well as trace the genetic markers of the early geographical dispersal of the plant. The genetic characterisation of the herbaria samples considered as reservoirs of ancient DNA (aDNA) constitute a pioneer research in prevision of future application on archaeological material. The GMM will allow to analyse the morphometric diversity within and among the modern samples and, more especially, to distinguish wild and cultivated subspecies based on the size/shape differences of their seeds and on the number of cells on their testa (seed coat). The methodology has been tested and validated on a small set of poppy seeds in the frame of the AgriChange project (SNSF, 2018-2021). The production of this solid modern reference database will open the way to future application of GMM on archaeological material to track the start of opium poppy cultivation. Task 3 will propose an interdisciplinary interpretation of the spatial analysis of the archaeobotanical database (Task 1) and the genetic/GMM database (Task 2) through inclusive visual restitutions, and taking into account multi-source variables with the Geographic Information System (GIS) tool. By testing the interdisciplinary integrative potential and the analytical geostatistical possibilities offered by the GIS tools,Task 3 could give solid bases for a future modelling of the opium poppy’s history.
The POPPY project will initiate new and long-term collaborations with junior and senior researchers in France and in Europe. It will pave the way for systemic and cross-cultural approaches to the history of opium poppy. A significant attention will be made throughout the POPPY project duration and beyond to disseminate an up-to-date knowledge about opium poppy and the research methodologies.

Project coordination

Aurélie Salavert (Archéozoologie, archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnements)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


AASPE Archéozoologie, archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnements

Help of the ANR 233,968 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2021 - 42 Months

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