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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Pullman, Washington » Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #294593

Research Project: Management of Plant Genetic Resources and Associated Information

Location: Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research

Title: Fungi

Author
item Dugan, Frank

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/31/2014
Publication Date: 8/14/2015
Citation: Dugan, F.M. 2015. Fungi. In: Beaudry, M.C., Bescherer Metheny, K., editors. Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia. Lanham, MD:Rowman & Littlefield. p.231.

Interpretive Summary: Fungi are seldom encountered in the archaeological record of foodstuffs but there are exceptions, especially for yeast. Excavated vessels contained identifiable residues of fermented beverages. Ancient ovens allow inferences on leavened breads. Mesopotamian clay tablets contain references to truffles, and ancient Egyptians apparently forbade consumption of mushrooms by commoners. However, most evidence of fungi as food is primarily textual, such as writings (transmitted by copyists) of the Greeks and Romans on edible and poisonous mushrooms. Artifactual evidence (‘mushroom stones’ of Central America, carvings from Europe, mushroom-shaped lugs on cauldrons of the Huns, etc.), is usually either ambiguous or not pertinent to regular diet. Fungi having an adverse impact on health, ergot sclerotia, are recovered from archaeobotanical sites and stomachs of bog bodies. Experiments conducted to replicate ancient grain storage practices have implicated spoilage and mycotoxin-producing fungi. Roman rituals, the Robigalia, were intended to deter wheat rust, and the fire festivals of Europe had the intention of protecting crops from diseases, but evidence is textual or from folklore, seldom archaeological. Fungi found with the famed Ice Man were likely medicinal or used as tinder, not food. Relative abundance of grazing animals is adduced by certain types of fossil spores, but it was the herbivores, not these fungi, that were consumed by humans. Pre-modern texts and paintings indicate that lore of European herb- and market-women on edible mushrooms contributed to early mycological science. Analogous texts and paintings convey much about medicinal fungi in East Asia. Unlike seeds and bones, mushrooms do not readily enter the archaeological record. Paleo-linguistic analyses, field anthropology, folklore and ancient to pre-modern texts or images are necessary to infer relevance of fungi to ancient diets.

Technical Abstract: Fungi are seldom encountered in the archaeological record of foodstuffs but there are exceptions, especially for yeast. Excavated vessels contained identifiable residues of fermented beverages. Ancient ovens allow inferences on leavened breads. Mesopotamian clay tablets contain references to truffles, and ancient Egyptians apparently forbade consumption of mushrooms by commoners. However, most evidence of fungi as food is primarily textual, such as writings (transmitted by copyists) of the Greeks and Romans on edible and poisonous mushrooms. Artifactual evidence (‘mushroom stones’ of Central America, carvings from Europe, mushroom-shaped lugs on cauldrons of the Huns, etc.), is usually either ambiguous or not pertinent to regular diet. Fungi having an adverse impact on health, ergot sclerotia, are recovered from archaeobotanical sites and stomachs of bog bodies. Experiments conducted to replicate ancient grain storage practices have implicated spoilage and mycotoxin-producing fungi. Roman rituals, the Robigalia, were intended to deter wheat rust, and the fire festivals of Europe had the intention of protecting crops from diseases, but evidence is textual or from folklore, seldom archaeological. Fungi found with the famed Ice Man were likely medicinal or used as tinder, not food. Relative abundance of grazing animals is adduced by certain types of fossil spores, but it was the herbivores, not these fungi, that were consumed by humans. Pre-modern texts and paintings indicate that lore of European herb- and market-women on edible mushrooms contributed to early mycological science. Analogous texts and paintings convey much about medicinal fungi in East Asia. Unlike seeds and bones, mushrooms do not readily enter the archaeological record. Paleo-linguistic analyses, field anthropology, folklore and ancient to pre-modern texts or images are necessary to infer relevance of fungi to ancient diets.