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Sri Lanka’s Ancient Cosmopolitan Cuisine

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

MANTAI, SRI LANKA—According to a Science Magazine report, researchers who analyzed soil samples collected at the site of the ancient port of Mantai on the island of Sri Lanka detected plant remains from around the world. Researchers found grains of locally grown rice, charred black pepper dating to between A.D. 600 and 700, and a single clove dating to between A.D. 900 and 1100. Archaeobotanist Eleanor Kingwell-Banham of University College London said spices are rarely found in the archaeological record because they were so valuable and were handled very carefully. The clove found by the researchers, for example, is thought to have traveled more than 4,000 miles from Indonesia. The team members also found wheat dated to between A.D. 100 and 200, and seeds from grapes harvested between A.D. 650 and 800. These crops would not have grown in Sri Lanka’s tropical climate, and are thought to have been imported from the Mediterranean world. Kingwell-Banham's team is currently studying chemical isotopes from the plants to help pinpoint the origins of the imported crops. For more on evidence of spices in the archaeological record, go to “The Neolithic Palate.”

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