Sardaigne (Italie): 3,000 year-old Mediterranean melon

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Some melon seeds found on the Italian island of Sardinia have proved, for the first time, that the melon along with wild fruits, grains and legumes has been part of the western Mediterranean diet since the Bronze Age, more than 3,000 years ago.

A team of Italian and Spanish researchers has studied these remains and other materials that had been buried for millennia in some wells in recent years until they saw the light in excavations in the area of Sa Osa prior to the construction of a road.

Diego Sabato, an Italian who recently identified 47 melon seeds that were found, said they first analysed their shape, which looked like cucumber seeds, and then conducted carbon-14 tests to clarify their age.

They were surprised when they discovered the seeds belonged to the Bronze Age because, up to that moment, there was no evidence that said fruit existed in this part of the Mediterranean at that particular time.

"We always thought the melon had been introduced by the Romans and Greeks, even though it appeared in earlier paintings in Thebes, Egypt," said Sabato.

The director of the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation at the University of Cagliari (Sardinia), Gianluigi Bacchetta, said that in addition to the melon, which originated in Asia, they also found vine seeds, which were attributed to the Phoenicians.

"This changes what we thought the civilization that developed on the island," said the official, who considered that these ancient people were not only shepherds who used rudimentary tools but also kept a close relationship with the other people of the Mediterranean.

Another aspect of this finding that caught the attention of experts was how the materials were preserved.

Usually these findings are burned, but this time they were in the water, something quite exceptional in the Mediterranean Sea and more common in northern Europe. 

The findings were preserved in the wells as if they were fresh, and researchers could even make out their colour and find hairs in them, which helped them identify them very precisely and with much detail, said Leonor Peña, deputy director of the Spanish School of History and Archaeology in Rome, form the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC). 

According to Peña, this intact conservation in water was possible because the site was buried in mud in water and humidity conditions without oxygen, so the bacteria and microorganisms couldn't attack it, since they wouldn't be able to survive in that environment.

There are theories that explain the presence of these materials in wells, ranging from the existence of latrines to a kind of refrigeration to preserve food.

In addition to the Spanish School of History and Archaeology in Rome and the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation at the University of Cagliari, the Research Group for Archaeobiology from the CSIC in Madrid, the Institute for Exploitation of Timber and Tree Species of Sesto Fiorentino, the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage Tuscany and Sardinia, and specialized centres of the Roman University La Sapienza and the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain) participated in the investigation.

A whole range of institutions devoted to the study of hundreds of thousands of seeds, fruits, pollen grains, fragments of wood and coal that lay in those Sardinians sediments, without forgetting the remains of wheat, barley, blackberry, grape, myrtle, juniper, olive and, of course, the melon seeds, among others.