All about yew: on the trail of Taxus baccata in southwest Europe by means of integrated palaeobotanical and archaeobotanical studies

Paloma Uzquiano, Ethel Allué, Ferran Antolín, Francesc Burjachs, Llorenç Picornel, Raquel Piqué, Lydia Zapata

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

© 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. This paper reviews the palaeobiogeography of Taxus baccata (yew) and the human social customs and traditions relating to this tree in southwest Europe. Pollen and archaeobotanical (charcoal, seeds and manufactured tools) evidence supplemented by some data from ethnographical sources have been considered in an integrated approach focused on the Holocene. The geographical scope covers northern Spain, including both sides of the Pyrenees to southeast France, northeast Spain and the Balearic islands. Although the first archaeobotanical occurrences of yew have been recorded at 12–8 cal. kyr bp, the highest values have been found between 7,000 and 2,000 cal. bp as reflected in its maximum pollen curves in the study area. According to the pollen records this taxon had a first significant presence within the mixed oak woods and then it gradually disappeared (ca. 3,000 bp) from middle altitudes. This might be due to a combination of changing climatic conditions responsible for the major Holocene vegetation changes and increasing human pressure. A wide diversity of human uses is observed in the record of yew macroremains from archaeological sites. The presence of charcoal, potentially consumed fruits, manufactured tools and other archaeobotanical evidence of yew associated with livestock activities lead us to propose a set of past uses that may have contributed to its clear decrease in the late Holocene. Despite this intensive exploitation it is also rather common to find old specimens of planted yew throughout the study area, witnessing its endurance in the memories of people wherever it has remained.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-247
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
Volume24
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

Keywords

  • Botanical macroremains
  • Charcoal
  • Culture of yew
  • Palaeobiogeography
  • Pollen

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