Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Archaeological Science 40:4 (April 2013), pp. 1935–1945; doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2012.11.002.


Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission.


Pollen from intestinal contents of mummies, backed by macrofloral analysis, provides important clues to diet, medicines, and season of death. Intestinal contents were recovered from the Piraino 1 mummy from the “Sepulcher of the Priests,” Piraino Mother Church, in the province of Messina, Sicily. Using standard palynological methods and pollen concentration technique, we quantified the numbers of pollen grains per gram of coprolite. The pollen spectrum was dominated by Polygalaceae, the Milkwort Family. Polygalaceae pollen is rarely found in archaeological sites. Based on comparison to published keys, we determined that the pollen came from a species of Polygala. Polygala contains species with medicinal value. We found nine other pollen types. Traces of Potamogeton (pondweed) was observed in preliminary scans. Multiple grains of Brassicaceae (mustard family), cereal (cultivated grains), Typha (cattail) and Cheno-am were found. Single grains of Castanea (chestnut), Fabaceae (bean family), Salix (willow), and Solanaceae (tomato family) were found. The preservation of the pollen was poor except for Polygala and the cereal pollen. Brassicaceae and Cheno-am have been part of the natural pollen spectrum in Sicily since ancient times. Cereal grains were consumed with prepared food. Importantly, background arboreal pollen was nearly absent. This indicates that Piraino 1 died during months of low pollination. The absence of olive pollen is important since this plant in Sicily reaches its maximum pollination in May and June and tapers off rapidly by mid-June. Therefore, absence of the key warm season airborne pollen type suggests a post-June death. Macrofossils, especially residue from grape pulp, indicates a death in September to November. His cause of death was likely a result of multiple myeloma. The methodological differences between archaeopalynology and forensic palynology are summarized. We suggest that the palynological methods presented here should be adopted for human remains analysis in forensic palynology.