Saccharomyces cerevisiae Fermentation Effects on Pollen: Archaeological Implications

Keywords: archaeological palynology, fermentation, mead, fermented beverages, melissopalynology


Pollen is the reproductive agent of flowering plants; palynology is utilized by archaeologists because sporopollenin, a major component in the exine of pollen grains, is resistant to decay and morphologically distinctive. Wine, beer, and mead have been identified in the archaeological record by palynological assessment due to indicator species or due to a pollen profile similar to that recovered from honey, a common source of sugar in a variety of fermented beverages. While most palynologists have assumed that pollen grains are resistant to alcoholic fermentation, a recent study in food science implies that pollen is a yeast nutrient because pollen-enriched meads produce more alcohol. The experiment presented here explores the potential distortion of the pollen record through fermentation by brewing a traditional, pollen-rich mead with Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In this experiment, the pollen grains did not undergo any discernible morphological changes nor were distorted in the pollen profile. Any nutrition that the yeast garners from the pollen therefore leaves sporopollenin intact. These results support palynological research on residues of alcoholic beverages and confirms that the fermentation process does not distort the pollen profile of the original substance. The paper concludes with the potential and limits of palynological study to assess fermentation within the archaeological record.

Author Biography

Crystal A. Dozier, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station, USA.

Crystal A. Dozier is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M University interested in prehistoric cooking technologies, specialty foods, feasting, and complex social interactions.


Arobba, D., F. Bulgarelli, F. Camin, R. Caramiello, R. Larcher, and L. Martinelli. 2014. Palaeobotanical, Chemical and Physical Investigation of the Content of an Ancient Wine Amphora from the Northern Tyrrhenian Sea in Italy. Journal of Archaeological Science 45:226–33.

Barkley, F. A. 1934. The Statistical Theory of Pollen Analysis. Ecology 15:283–89.

Braidwood, R. J., J. D. Sauer, H. Helbaek, P. C. Mangelsdorf, H. C. Cutler, C. S. Coon, R. Linton, J. Steward, and A. L. Oppenheim. 1953. Symposium: Did Man Once Live by Beer Alone? American Anthropologist 55:515–526.

Bruman, H. J. 2000. Alcohol in Ancient Mexico. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, UT.

Bryant, V. M., Jr., and S. A. Hall. 1993. Archaeological Palynology in the United States: A Critique. American Antiquity 58:277–86. DOI:10.2307/281970.

Bryant, V. M., Jr. 2014a. The Basics of Honey Identification. Bee Culture April:59–63.

Bryant, V. M., Jr. 2014b. Truth in Labeling: Honey Testing. Bee Culture August:29–33.

Campbell, I. D., and C. Campbell. 1994. Pollen Preservation: Experimental Wet-Dry Cycles in Saline and Desalinated Sediments. Palynology 18:5–10. DOI:10.2307/3687753.

Cushing, E. J. 1967. Evidence for Differential Pollen Preservation in Late Quaternary Sediments in Minnesota. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 4:87–101. DOI:10.1016/0034-6667(67)90175-3.

Goldstein, S. 1960. Degradation of Pollen by Phycomycetes. Ecology 41:543–45. DOI:10.2307/1933329.

Gorham, L. D., and V. M. Bryant, Jr. 2001. Pollen, Phytoliths, and Other Microscopic Plant Remains in Underwater Archaeology. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 30:282–98.

Guerra-Doce, E. 2014. The Origins of Inebriation: Archaeological Evidence of the Consumption of Fermented Beverages and Drugs in Prehistoric Eurasia. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 22:751–782. DOI:10.1007/s10816-014-9205-z.

Havinga, A. J. 1967. Palynology and Pollen Preservation. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 2:81–98. DOI:10.1016/0034-6667(67)90138-8.

Hayden, B. 2009. The Proof Is in the Pudding. Current Anthropology 50:597–601.

Hayden, B., N. Canuel, and J. Shanse. 2013. What Was Brewing in the Natufian? An Archaeological Assessment of Brewing Technology in the Epipaleolithic. Journal of Archaeological Method & Theory 20:102–150.

Jacobsen, M., and V. M. Bryant, Jr. 1998. Preliminary Fossil Pollen Analysis of Terebinth Resin from a 15-Century BC Shipwreck at Ulu Burun, Turkey. In New Developments in Palynomorph Sampling, Extraction, and Analysis, edited by V. M. Bryant, Jr. and J. Wrenn, pp. 75–82. Contributions Series-American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists. American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Foundation, Dallas, TX.

Jones, G. D., and V. M. Bryant, Jr. 1996. New Frontiers in Palynology. In Palynology: Principles and Applications, edited by J. Jansonius and D.C. McGregor, pp. 933–38. American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Foundation, Dallas, TX.

Jones, G. D., and V. M. Bryant, Jr. 2004. The Use of ETOH for the Dilution of Honey. Grana 43:174–82.

Jones, G. D., and V. M. Bryant, Jr. 1992. Melissopalynology in the United States: A Review and Critique. Palynology 16:63–71. DOI:10.1080/01916122.1992.9989407.

Kvavadze, E., I. Gambashidze, G. Mindiashvili, and G. Gogochuri. 2006. The First Find in Southern Georgia of Fossil Honey from the Bronze Age, Based on Palynological Data. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 16:399–404. DOI:10.1007/s00334-006-0067-5.

Lagerås, P. 2000. Burial Rituals Inferred from Palynological Evidence: Results from a Late Neolithic Stone Cist in Southern Sweden. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 9:169–73.

Low, N. H., C. Schweger, and P. Sporns. 1989. Precautions in the Use of Melissopalynology. Journal of Apiculture Research 28:50–54.

McGovern, P. E., S. J. Fleming, and S. H. Katz. 2003. The Origins and Ancient History of Wine: Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology. Routledge, New York, NY.

Moe, D., and K. Oeggl. 2014. Palynological Evidence of Mead: A Prehistoric Drink Dating Back to the 3rd Millennium B.C. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 23:515–26. DOI:10.1007/s00334-013-0419-x.

Roffet-Salque, M., M. Regert, R. P. Evershed, A. K. Outram, L. J. E. Cramp, O. Decavallas, J. Dunne, P. Gerbault, S. Mileto, S. Mirabaud, M. Pääkönen, J. Smyth, L. Šoberl, H. L. Whelton, A. Alday-Ruiz, H. Asplund, M. Bartkowiak, E. Bayer-Niemeier, L. Belhouchet, F. Bernardini, M. Budja, G. Cooney, M. Cubas, E. M. Danaher, M. Diniz, L. Domboróczki, C. Fabbri, J. E. González-Urquijo, J. Guilaine, S. Hachi, B. N. Hartwell, D. Hofmann, I. Hohle, J. J. Ibáñez, N. Karul, F. Kherbouche, J. Kiely, K. Kotsakis, F. Lueth, J. P. Mallory, C. Manen, A. Marciniak, B. Maurice-Chabard, M. A. Mc Gonigle, S. Mulazzani, M. Özdoğan, O. S. Perić, S. R. Perić, J. Petrasch, A. Pétrequin, P. Pétrequin, U. Poensgen, C. J. Pollard, F. Poplin, G. Radi, P. Stadler, H. Stäuble, N. Tasić, D. Urem-Kotsou, J. B. Vuković, F. Walsh, A. Whittle, S. Wolfram, L. Zapata-Peña, and J. Zoughlami. 2015. Widespread Exploitation of the Honeybee by Early Neolithic Farmers. Nature 527:226–30. DOI:10.1038/nature15757.

Roldán, A., G. C. J. van Muiswinkel, C. Lasanta, V. Palacios, and I. Caro. 2011. Influence of Pollen Addition on Mead Elaboration: Physicochemical and Sensory Characteristics. Food Chemistry 126:574–82. DOI:10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.11.045.

Rösch, M. 1999. Evaluation of Honey Residues from Iron Age Hill-Top Sites in Southwestern Germany: Implications for Local and Regional Land Use and Vegetation Dynamics. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 8:105–12. DOI:10.1007/BF02042848.

Smalley, J., and M. Blake. 2003. Sweet Beginnings. Current Anthropology 44:675–703.

Todd, F. E., and G. D. Vansell. 1942. Pollen Grains in Nectar and Honey. Journal of Economic Entomology 35:728–31.

Whitfield, C. W., S. K. Behura, S. H. Berlocher, A. G. Clark, J. S. Johnston, W. S. Sheppard, D. R. Smith, A. V. Suarez, D. Weaver, and N. D. Tsutsui. 2006. Thrice Out of Africa: Ancient and Recent Expansions of the Honey Bee, Apis Mellifera. Science 314:642–45. DOI:10.1126/science.1132772.

How to Cite
Dozier, C. A. (2016). Saccharomyces cerevisiae Fermentation Effects on Pollen: Archaeological Implications. Ethnobiology Letters, 7(1), 32–37.
Research Communications