Posted: 19 Jan 2019 07:38 PM PST
An excavation at the ancient port of Mantai in Sri Lanka has unearthed what is likely to be the oldest clove in the world.
Located on the northwest coast of Sri Lanka, Mantai was a pivotal hub of trade between the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the east and west coasts of India and the interior of Sri Lanka from the time it was founded around 200 B.C. Merchant ships stopped at the port in the middle of the Indian Ocean laden with goods from the East (China, southeast Asia islands and mainland) and West (Europe, Africa, Middle East), part of a complex network of trade routes that linked the ancient world for the duration of Sri Lanka’s Anuradhapura Kingdom and beyond, from the middle of the 1st millennium B.C. through the 13th century.
Archaeological exploration of Mantai was still in its infancy when it was brusquely interrupted by civil war in 1983. In the three seasons of excavations, archaeologists had unearthed a rich assortment of ceramics and semi-precious stone beads from India, Arabia, the Mediterranean and China. Much of the context of those finds was lost or damaged during the war, as were the records detailing the stratigraphy of the site.
Excavations resumed in 2009-2010. With so much ground to cover and not much time to cover it, the team of archaeologists from the Sri Lankan Department of Archaeology, the European Research Council-funded Sealinks Project and the University College London Institute of Archaeology focused on an in-depth investigation of the material in a single very deep trench south of the central occupation mound. The trench was 10 x 10 feet wide and a whopping 33 feet deep, reaching middle Holocene layers. The goal was to recover a multitude of small finds from ceramics to organic remains to fossilized particles of plant tissue that would allow the team to establish a series of precise radiocarbon dates to serve as a much-needed baseline for future excavations.
Among the organic remains recovered from the deep trench are spices that were some of the most valuable trade goods that moved across the East-West routes through Sri Lanka, notably cloves and black peppercorns.
Cloves are not native to Sri Lanka. They were grown in the Maluku Islands, more than 4000 miles east of Sri Lanka by sea, and traded to Europe where they were highly prized from Roman times onward. They were used as spices to enhance the flavor of food and drink, but also widely used for medicinal purposes and personal hygiene, like to combat the heartbreak of halitosis. Black pepper was less rare and less distant, but still so desirable that it was known as “black gold” at the apex of the maritime spice trade from the 16th century through the 19th. The peppercorns found at Mantai probably came from the Western Ghats of India.
|You are subscribed to email updates from The History Blog. |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043, United States|