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History and archaeology of the emblematic argan tree in the medieval Anti-Atlas Mountains (Morocco)

par Myriam Méziou - publié le

Marie-Pierre Ruas, Jérôme Ros, Jean-Frédéric Terral, Sarah Ivorra, Hélène Andrianarinosy, Ahmed S. Ettahiri, Abdallah Fili, Jean-Pierre Van Staëvel (2015)

The argan tree [/Argania spinosa/ (L.) Skeel.] is a spontaneous and xerophilous species endemic to southwestern Morocco and the only representative species of the tropical Sapotaceae family in the country. It forms well-developed woodlands in the plain of Souss and open steppic vegetation on the semi-arid slopes of the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Currently, wild and managed argan trees are a staple firewood and timber resource, leaves and fruit are used for fodder and oil from the seeds for daily food. In the Anti-Atlas southeast of Taroudant, various tree growth forms can be observed in keeping with local management practices. We developed interdisciplinary research in this area by studying the bioarchaeological remains from the medieval site of Igîlîz in conjunction with current farming practices in the neighbouring village of Tifigit. A plant inventory of 96 taxa was recorded from the archaeobotanical remains, including 13 wild and cultivated tree species and eight herbaceous crops (cereals, pulses, vegetables, condiments and fruit). The charred wood and seeds of Argania spinosa predominated in a wide range of contexts, indicating the major role of this species in the 10the13th century economy. The ethnobotanical survey focused on the exploitation of argan trees and argan oil extraction techniques. In this paper, we discuss the past and present-day role of the argan tree in the agro-pastoral economy of the mountain hinterland.

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