The purpose of this paper is to review the current evidence for plant use in Mesolithic Europe and to summarize its implications. In order to do so, four sources of data are examined: macrobotanical remains, palynological data, artefactual evidence, and the human biological record.
A prelimary survey of palaeobotanical evidence for plant use in the Mesolithic indicates that the evidence is far more extensive than expected hitherto and that accumulations of plant food, especially of nuts, point to their regular and extensive use. In those areas such as Britain, where a large number of fine-resolution palynological studies have been carried out, the incidence of clearance and burning phases seems to be too high to be explained by acts of nature alone. A good case can be made for deliberate forest clearance and the maintenance of a more open landscape by Late Mesolithic groups as part of a promotional strategy to increase the productivity of nut and fruit trees and shrubs, wetland plants, and possibly native grasses.
Artefactual evidence points to a widespread distribution of soil-working tools (hoes and antler mattocks), especially in temperate Europe, and to a greater than expected presence of reaping and grinding equipment, lending conditional support for the existence of a specialized plant processing tool kit for digging, reaping, and plant processing.
Palaeopathological evidence indicates the existence of a dietary pattern in the west Mediterranean making extensive use of starchy and carbohydrate foods which resulted in a high caries rate among the Mesolithic population of that area.
In discussing the signiftcanse of these four lines of evidence, it is argued that, by the Late Mesolithic, the patterns of plant use support the notion of wild plant food husbandry instead of the incidental and opportunistic use of plants for food which has implicitly been accepted as a norm for the Mesolithic in Europe. Three geographical areas can be identified with their specific pattern of plant use: temperate Europe, Mediterranean Europe, and the south-eastern Balkans/Pontic Steppe. The patterns of plant use suggested in this paper emphasize the additive nature of the adoption of the agro-pastoral Neolithic farming practices in Europe.