Lechín de Granada, one of the usual varieties in Jaén in Roman times

Lechín de Granada, one of the usual varieties in Jaén in Roman times

2018/14/09 - Deciphering the olive-growing culture of the Roman era through the olive bones found in Andalusia is one of the objectives of the archaeobotany projects that are being carried out since 2015 in the Santa Potenciana Hermitage of Villanueva de la Reina (Jaén). In the process of identifying the varieties found, the archaeologist Juán Nicás -Responsible for the excavation- told Mercacei that one of them corresponds to the variety Lechín de Granada.

The research project began as an initiative of the City of Villanueva de la Reina to protect an archaeological site that was being lost due to erosion. The excavations began in 2012, but it was not until 2015 when the studies related to archaeobotany began.

You are responsible for the excavation, who is helping you in this historical adventure?
In this project, apart from the collaboration of the City Council, many colleagues, belonging to different Universities and Institutions, as well as professional archaeologists have been involved. Thanks to this support we were able to create a project focused on archeology students so that in summer they could take practices and in many cases have the opportunity to have a first contact with an archaeological site. Nowadays, many of these students are already professional archaeologists. And we must also point out that last year we signed a collaboration agreement with the University of Granada. And, of course, the IFAPA Center of Alameda del Obispo de Córdoba is also focussing in this research and is serving as an invaluable aid.

Why did you choose this place? What were the expectations?
The main interest and concern was to stop the deterioration of the deposit and, from there, the results don't depend on us. Today -and the more you dig the more it happens- you can't start from preconceived ideas in archeology, because where you think something monumental can be found, it turns out to be empty and, on the contrary, where you think there is nothing, you may find something surprising. It is irremediable to get a preconceived idea of ​​what may be, but we must always mantain an open mind so that what we find does not fit our hypotheses.

What have you found so far? How old are the remains?
The site covers from the I Century b.C. until at least the XVIII Century a.C. A priori is a settlement from the time of Augustus, and that lasts in time almost without interruption, so we can say that the site has witnessed the history of the Alto Guadalquivir for 2,000 years. All indications point to that in Roman times it was an official stop on the Gadir-Rome route, and possibly also served as a distribution point for goods, tax collection... and that in later times happened to have a purely agricultural character, until the Christian era that began to pay homage to Santa Potenciana, where it seems that he lived and died.

What varieties have you identified? What conclusions about Roman olive growing do you think could be reached within these remains?
At the moment we are in the process of identifying varieties, which is already an achievement in itself. I can not give you concrete figures of the number of these found so far, because they are still provisional. However, I could say that among them we have identified the Lechín de Granada. Once this identification concludes, plantation frames could be established depending on the variety's size, yield, oil quality, etc. But, obviously, before start running we must walk.

In your opinion, what are the most relevant issues that can be extracted from the deposit?
The project itself is so relevant. We do not want to discover myths, we do not want to discover Atlantis. What is important for society to see is that a small town hall and a group of professionals agreed to save an archaeological site in the midst of a crisis. If all the institutions did that sometime, we would have much more archaeological heritage if not to enjoy it now, to bequeath it to future generations.

Where will the results of this research be published?
The first advances were exposed two years ago at an archaeobotanical congress in Paris, creating great interest. Right now, we are focused on obtaining results and we will wait until we present them to the scientific community.

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