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Study: Plant habitats help distinguish old settlements’ location

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Prague, April 12 (CTK) – A team of researchers from the Czech University of Life Sciences (CZU) has found out that specific plant habitats on the sites of ancient settlements keep influencing the respective localities after thousands of years and make them easy to distinguish from above, a CZU report says.

It refers to the CZU team led by Michal Hejcman, which examined Biblical sites in Israeli together with archaeologists from Israel’s Ariel University.

The scientists took soil samples from archaeological sites Tel Burna and Tell es-Safi shortly before Easter.

“Both settlements, traditionally built atop hills, date back to the Bronze Age and the Kingdom of Judah period from about 1000 B.C. Both are mentioned in the Bible. They are located in the landscape of the legendary battle of David and Goliath, which is why they are in focus of the Israeli archaeologists,” Tomas Junek, from the CZU, said.

The Czechs revealed that in the two localities, the soil still contains elements that are different from the localities where people never lived.

“Anthropogenic elements, mainly phosphorus, zinc and copper, can still be found on Israeli [archaeological] sites, even 3,000 years after the settlements’ end. The human impact is thus much more persistent than what was believed,” Hejcman said.

“It will be possible to reliably detect defunct settlements in aerial pictures, for example, which recently happened in the unforested landscape of the Amazonian rainforests,” he added.

Archaeologist Ladislav Smejda said the localities in question owe their different chemical composition to activities such as cattle breeding, organic wastes and the burning of organic substances. They led to an increased concentration of certain substances, which is higher than in the surrounding landscape.

“This seems to be an universal rule we have proved by our research including sites from the Mediterranean to the agrarian economy’s geographical line in Iceland,” Smejda said.

Soil composition also influences the occurrence of plant species in the given locality.

For example, wild barley prevails in Israel’s Tel Burna locality. In Bohemia, dwarf periwinkle tends to grow on the sites of defunct medieval settlements, while field horsetail prevails in such places in Iceland, botanist Vilem Pavlu said.

On such sites, the plants are of brighter colours thanks to a higher amount of nutrients.

The Tel Burna locality partly owes its high portion of copper to a former metallurgic workshop. “We use an X-ray spectrometer, which the Israelis do not have in the locality. As a result, we are capable of identifying a metallurgic workshop [underground] before it is uncovered,” Hejcman told CTK.

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