This weekend, Rambla Prim in Barcelona has been buzzing with families and researchers at the 16th Science Festival.
We participated in the event with a workshop on cereal cultivation and sustainable food, where children and their families interacted with large-scale reproductions of ancient cereal seeds and performed tasks of sample identification and classification.
The activity was very well received, with the participation of about thirty people, including 15 children and their families. The workshop led to the discovery of Archaeobotany: a discipline that is not widely known in the popular imagination of Archaeology but is essential for understanding key aspects of past societies‘ daily life; such as food, agricultural practices, and trade routes.
In the introductory phase of the workshop, we compared some of the most consumed cereals today with the wide variety of cereal species that existed in the prehistoric Mediterranean area. Using various graphic and plastic materials (a poster, reproductions of charred seeds, and images on paper), our researchers explained the most relevant aspects of their research methodology.
Furthermore, the researchers explained the key aspects of the current research methodology in archaeobotany. They emphasized the collaboration with ancient seed banks (agrogenetics), our experimental cultivations in the Institute of Plant Breeding and Genetic Resources (IPGRB from ELGO-Demeter, Hellenic Agricultural Organization) at Thessaloniki (Greece), and the application of specialized algorithms using artificial intelligence. These methodologies enable archaeologists to generate comprehensive databases for identifying and studying prehistoric cereals.
The second part of the workshop focused on the tasks of sample identification and classification through experimentation and manipulation of charred seeds. First, children located the seeds among real archaeological sediments, and they didn’t mind getting their hands dirty at all! Then, using interpretation cards with images and names of different cereal varieties, they had to correctly identify and classify the seeds they found in the sediment.
Indeed, the work of archaeologists is diverse! Outreach activities are a valuable tool for breaking stereotypes and inspiring scientific vocations. And we are passionate about it!
The final part of the workshop drew special attention with its large-scale (and brightly colored) 3D reproductions of ancient seeds documented in prehistoric Mediterranean sites. Children had to place each cereal on its corresponding identification card, and it was not as easy as it seemed!
The workshop Cultivating Knowledge: Unveiling Ancient Crops for a Sustainable Future is an initiative of our archaeobotany team at ICAC, led by researcher Alexandra Livarda. Postdoctoral researcher Marie-Curie Charlotte Diffey and Darío Herranz participated, accompanied by knowledge transfer technician Marta Flórez, and with the support of Ada Richaud and Maria Ferrer. We also want to highlight the collaboration of researcher Leonor Peña-Chocarro from the Center for Human and Social Sciences at CSIC in Madrid on the 3D seeds activity.
Overall, this fantastic experience enabled the GIAP team to bring a portion of their research closer to the public, fostering a greater understanding of archaeobotany.
The Barcelona Science Festival is a scientific dissemination event organized by the Barcelona City Council, and this year marks its 16th edition. The workshops and activities took place in the Besòs neighbourhood of Barcelona (District of Sant Martí). The ICAC workshop was located in Space 8: Living Beings and took place on Sunday, 11th June, shortly after 5:00 PM, during the second day of this large-scaleevent.
The activity was designed in the context of the following projects:
- Alexandra Livarda is a Ramón y Cajal researcher at GIAP (ICAC). Agencia Estatal de Investigación, RYC-2017-22105.
- DarkRevisited. The Aegean ‘Dark Ages’ revisited: a novel approach to old debates on agricultural economy and food culture. Agencia Estatal de Investigación (PID2019-107605GB-I00)
- DarkSeeds: A new explanatory paradigm for the agricultural economies of the Aegean Late Bronze and Early Iron Age using Machine Learning-aided 3D morphometrics and stable isotope analyses (2022 – 2024). Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, European Research Area (H2020-MSCA-IF-2020-101024917)
- Feeding the Gap: A modern experimental cultivation project towards the creation of new tools that explore past agriculture. PhD Thesis. Alexandra Kriti. Supervised by Dr. Alexandra Livarda (ICAC), and Dr. Elisa Ninou (Associate Professor from the International Hellenic University, Department of Agriculture in Thessaloniki, Greece)
- The experimental cultivations are developed at the Institute of Plant Breeding and Genetic Resources (IPGRB from ELGO-Demeter, Hellenic Agricultural Organization) at Thessaloniki (Greece)
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the REA can be held responsible for them.