On the Origin of Apples

The distribution of agricultural products over time is a fascinating way to study human migration over millenia. Anthropologically and medically, you really can tell a lot about people by what is in their poop! There are some products, like tobacco, which had their advent well within recorded history and so most people know that it originated in the America's and was transported to the rest of the world. Over time, the desire for tobacco products ended up driving crop dispersion and human migration for centuries. 

The tobacco problem loomed large in  my mind when I wrote the post Eisteddfod. I really wanted Arwel to be chewing on a pipe stem. I figured there had to have been some sort of analogous practice that later became adapted with tobacco...and I appear to have been very wrong. Given that there are recorded histories of the Arawak peoples introducing Columbus to the plant and no records of neolithic stone pipes in the barrows of Britain, it does seem unlikely for a practice to have evolved and then be abandoned. Svetlana Balabanova and the Cocaine Mummies or not, I am hard pressed to explain Arwel's chewing on anything except maybe goat jerky or a stick.

I tried to attend to structures and modes of transportation with sea travel being foremost in my mind. Which is perhaps a bit unfortunate as I set the story up in such a way as to force them inland... No matter, they will take to the sea soon enough! Other background material I wanted to consider included family structure and agriculture, both of which could be interpolated reasonably well for a Bronze Age setting. I did not anticipate an issue with considerations of indigenous fruit trees, however. 

Purdue horticultural research!!

Why would it even be a consideration? I mean, the apple tree is an ancient and honored part of English history. It has to be a universal plant, being in the Bible and all. Right? Wrong. When people wonder what good the Romans brought with them, the list is always one item too short: apples. They brought apples with them. Not all the way from Kazakhstan, of course, but from the edges of the Silk Road all the way into the British Isles. I can not find at the time of writing any evidence for any sort of indigenous apple tree in Bronze Age Wales. It is equally true, however, there also does not appear to be any evidence of remains from Kazakhstan suggesting the apple was there at that time either. Plenty of paleogenetic evidence to suggest it is so, but that evidence is accessible because the apple is, in fact, there now.

For now, I will take comfort in remembering Murphy sharing an apple with his horse. It would have been a crab apple, large for its type, perhaps and made sweeter for being Welsh but not at all sweet by millenia later standards. 


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