IMAA 2018 Abstracts

Presentation Abstracts

Fueling the Oppidum: Wood charcoal analysis of Late Iron Age sites at and around Silchester

Catherine Barnett 1

1 University of Reading, Department of Archaeology

Large-scale wood charcoal analysis at Pre-Conquest Silchester Insula IX has provided a detailed and nuanced archaeobotanical record of the use of woody taxa within the town during the final decades of the Late Iron Age, which will be outlined. A reflection is also made in this paper on whether analysis of smaller contemporary sites within its hinterland under the Silchester Environs project has added substantively to this picture. Data will be drawn particularly from the settlement and mortuary sites of Windabout Copse and Pamber Forest. The latter is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, managed by private landowners for forestry on the fringes and by the Wildlife Trust within and designated due to the presence of ancient coppice and its rich associated fauna. Integrated prospection, including lidar and aerial photograph survey, by Truscoe, led to the discovery of a series of previously unknown late prehistoric (Bronze Age and Iron Age) sites, including enclosures and linear monuments. Targeted coring, survey and excavation of these has enabled the recovery of high quality samples and sequences that allow examination of the history of these woodlands and enabled comparison with the modern day ecosystem. The impact of analysis is considered, as the Environs have been working in collaboration with the landowners, land managers and designatory body (Natural England) to inform continued woodland management, coupled with mitigation of impact to the newly discovered archaeological resource.


Comparing the contributions of charred and waterlogged plant remains in the study rice domestication and the transition to agriculture in the Yangtze

Dorian Q Fuller1

1 University College London, Institute of Archaeology

The Lower Yangtze region China has emerged as a focus of much archaeobotanical research on early rice cultivation systems, rice domestication and the transition from heavy reliance on foraging to a focus on rice agriculture. This region includes sites with waterlogged preservation as well as those with charred remains. This presentation will review the current evidence for rice domestication, erly arable weed flora and the use of the wild foods, like acorns, aquatic nuts, and various fruits, as assess the comparability of charred and waterlogged datasets, and how these can perhaps be assessed together or separately to better characterize the emergence of fully agricultural economies.


Integrated methodology for the analysis of archaeological meals from Neolithic Catalhoyuk (Turkey)

Lara Gonzalez Carretero1

1 University College London, Institute of Archaeology

This paper presents preliminary results from the analysis of archaeological food remains from Neolithic Çatalhöyük. Food remains are recognisable as seemingly amorphous charred fragments of plant material. A new methodology for the investigation of these charred fragments of cereal preparations is presented, which utilises Scanning Electronic Microscopy (SEM) analyses of microstructures present within them by which the processes leading to their formation can be scrutinised. We will concentrate on three aspects; (1) the composition of these charred fragments; (2) the characterisation and classification of their microstructure according to possible methods of processing, preparation and cooking; (3) their comparison with experimentally prepared charred reference material. These techniques were applied to material recovered from Neolithic Çatalhöyük (Turkey), and the first results are presented here. The study of these charred fragments of ancient meals is of considerable importance because the identification of their components allows the characterisation of the nature of the food types represented, and their preparation, provides insights into past culinary traditions.


What happens to a phytolith in the soil?

Martin J. Hodson1

1 Oxford Brookes University

Considerable advances have been made on phytolith taxonomy and morphometrics in the last few years, and we have a much better understanding of the phytolith assemblages produced by plants. However, we have a much poorer appreciation of what happens when a phytolith assemblage enters the soil environment. This is obviously crucial for archaeological investigations using phytoliths as if some morphotypes are lost at greater rates than others it may skew interpretations based on the assemblage. In this paper I will review what is known of phytolith taphonomy, and suggest some avenues for further research. In particular I will assess the contributions of three key factors: phytolith chemistry; phytolith morphology; and soil chemistry.


Degradation of charcoal: an overview

Hans Huisman1, 2

1Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands

2Groningen Institute of Archeology, Groningen University

Charcoal is often regarded as an inert material, that is invariably well-preserved in the archaeological record. Recent observations, however, have highlighted that this material can be subject to several types of degradation processes. Due to these processes, burial conditions can have a significant impact on the potential of charcoal survival in the archaeological record. In this presentation, I will give an overview of indicators for charcoal degradation processes that may appear in thin sections, with examples from various archaeological sites. Degradation processes include physical damage (frost damage, trampling), biological degradation (soil fauna action) and chemically-induced disintegration (influence of alkaline ashes and possibly of phosphate precipitation).


Combination of ethnology and geoarchaeology: experimental floor of the mill in Dolní Němčí

Lenka Lisá1, Monika Porubcanova2, Petr Kocar3, Pavel Lisy1

1 Institute of Geology CAS, Rozvojova 269, Prague, Czech Republic

2 KPÚ Trenčín, K dolnej stanici 7282/20A, 911 01 Trenčín

3 Institute of Archaeology CAS, Letenská 2, Prague, Czech Republic

The combination of ethnology and geoarchaeology is one of the methodological tools which allow us to get the reference data for the deep understanding of single questions concerning the formation processes. One of the possibilities is to study the formation processes of anthropogenic structures and its continuous archeologisation. The knowledge of the protocol together with the knowledge of the result controlled by the other methodological tools is crucial for the archaeological interpretations. The study of floors (floor horizons) is one of the examples where the confrontation of ethnological sources together with the resulted stratigraphy play an important role.

The Mill in Dolní Němčí was founded in 18th Century and since that time few time rebuilt. During the 1914 a part of it burned down. The owners emigrated and since 1973 to 1989 was the mill closed to the public (the usual way how the Communistic government deal with such objects). After the revolution the mill was bought by local Government and in 1998 the museum was opened there. The floor was reconstructed by now 81 years old Mrs. Ježková, who care according to old habits about the floor for last 18 years.

Her description of floor preparation according to the passed knowledge of her grandmother:

“at first you have to mix the soil without stones (means local loess) with enough water (not too much), excrements as well as with straw and chaff. It should be barley chaff, but with the modern technologies is nearly impossible to get it.”

“when you will prepare the mix, you should spread it on the ground, the thickness is up to you, but usually 2 – 7 cm. I started late summer to prepare the floor and it didn´t dried perfectly unfortunately. The autumn was quite cool and it started to freezing… So I tried to repair it. I smashed the surface where the small ice wedges appeared and put the new cover. Finally everything went well so I applied the final stage of the floor.”

“It was usual to do it every Saturday, but I do it four times per year only. I spread water on the surface (using brush). After a while the cow excrements (also horse excrement’s are the good choice) have to be spread and immediately covered by the chaff (complaining how difficult is to collect chaff when the modern agriculture doesn´t know manual corn threshing any more). When the surface become dry the floor will be sweeped and that´s it”.

The way of the floor reconstruction, the material used and the problematic moments during the floor preparations was possible to detect from thin section. The experimental floor was maintained for 18 years, but unfortunately only 4 times per year, so many features of the typical ‘old’ floor did not developed (postsedimetary features as impregnations, vivianite growing, iron nodules growing, spherulite accumulations) or disappeared  – oxidised (spherulites). The ‘old’ floor is therefore much more variable in its composition, but not only because of postsedimetary processes, but also because of the different primary lithology. It may have different reasons (the space was permanently used all over the year, the person working in the kitchen was not the same all the time, there was more people living in the house). One more sample taken recently from the area of the main living room.


Wood remains from funerary contexts: El Caño (Coclé province, Panamá) as case study

María Martín-Seijo1, Julia Mayo Torné 2, Carlos Mayo Torné 1,2,3

1 Grupo de Estudos para a Prehistoria do NW Ibérico-Arqueoloxía, Antigüidade e Territorio. GEPN-AAT (GI-1534). Departamento de Historia. Universidade de Santiago de Compostela. Praza da Universidade 1. 15782. Santiago de Compostela, Spain

2 Centro de Investigaciones Arqueológicas del Istmo, Fundación El Caño, APO 819-4446, El Dorado, Panamá, República de Panamá

3 Dirección Nacional de Patrimonio Histórico, Panamá

Charcoal analysis is one of the least developed archaeobotanical disciplines in Central America –except in Mexico and Belize-. The study of wood remains recovered during the archaeological excavations developed at El Caño (Coclé province, Panamá) between 2008 and 2016 have highlighted the importance of these plant remains in funerary contexts: wood structures and implements, fuel, etc. Taxa from the dry tropical forest have been identified (Fabaceae) besides other genera which grew in mangrove forests (Rhizophora, Pelliciera, Avicennia) (Martín-Seijo et al. 2016). The use of Roupala montana has been also identified as fuel probably for producing odor during the burial ceremony. Finally the use of Arecaceae stems has been also identified in several contexts. Historical sources have been reviewed to increase the information provided by archaeobotanical identification (e.g. texts written by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Gaspar de Espinosa, etc.).

Martín-Seijo, M.; Piqué i Huerta, R.; Mayo Torné, J.; Mayo Torné, C.; Abad Vidal, E. 2016. Madera carbonizada en contextos funerarios de la jefatura de Río Grande, Panamá: antracología en el sitio de El Caño. Chungará. Revista de Antropología Chilena, 48 (2): 277-294.


Changing subsistence economies among early and middle Holocene foragers in northwest Africa

Marta Portillo1

1 University of Reading, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow

Northern Africa is a key area for understanding environmental changes and cultural dynamics during the early and middle Holocene, with critical implications for surrounding regions including the Mediterranean and the Sahara. Capsian populations from around 10,000 to 7,500 BP were among the last hunter-gatherers in the region. Capsians have long been defined as ‘snail eaters’, although recent research suggest that plant exploitation played a more important role than previously thought. Archaeobotanical evidence from a number of Tunisian sites located between the lowland steppe and the Dorsale Mountains and the eastern coast have provided a wide range of wild plant resources, such as pine, oak, legumes, grasses and sedges. These findings suggest that pine nuts, acorns, and wild legumes could have played a role as food, while the later could relate to sources of fiber for basketry, matting, building material and fuel. In addition, findings of pottery in the last occupational phases, in addition to dung spherulite indicators, show the introduction in a hunter-gatherer subsistence system of some elements widely associated to Neolithic in the threshold of food-producing communities. Although macro-botanical data is still limited and microfossil plant and dung studies are at its early stage, these may provide clues to a better understanding of changing subsistence systems in northern Africa.


Beyond the microscope: integrating palaeoecological and archaeological data using chronologies

Suzi Richer1, Peter Marshall and Benjamin Gearey

1University of York

As specialists in palaeoecology we spend a considerable amount of time at our microscopes creating detailed and high-resolution datasets demonstrating periods of environmental change. However, in order to make these datasets meaningful – both in terms of understanding when certain changes occurred and how they relate to other (archaeological and palaeoecological) datasets – robust chronology construction is paramount. Without it, when we make interpretations about the timings of events, we are effectively doing little more than ‘pinning the tail on the donkey’. Whilst increasing attention has been paid to chronology construction in both archaeology and palaeoecology; relatively few studies have attempted to rigorously or formally link the two in terms of theory as well as method. This paper will take a problem-oriented approach to three case studies, in which palaeoecological and archaeological chronologies have been integrated to provide fresh insights into the relationship between patterns and processes of past environmental and cultural change.


Ancient plants in clear view: Egyptian & Greek botany in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology

Amy C. Smith1

1 University of Reading, Classics

This talk seeks to deploy a collection of Egyptian and Greek antiquities for the purposes of archaeobotany, botany, and related fields that might benefit both from looking at and conducting analyses of artefacts in museums. The Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at University of Reading, assembled as a teaching collection by Prof. Percy and Dr. Annie Ure, from 1911 through 1976, holds a comprehensive collection of Greek artefacts, primarily ceramics, as well as figurines, metal work etc. To it were added Egyptian antiquities, some in residence at the University of Reading since 1909 and a few further additions since Dr. Ure passed away. While some artefacts have been subjected to petrographic analysis, residue analysis has been performed on only one of our many oil jars, although answers to botanical questions might reveal the secrets of some of our other closed vessels. Our textile collection, which was conserved as recently as 2014 and thoroughly researched by a textile archaeologist in 2003–2004, has not been subjected to materials analysis. This presentation will conclude with a survey of the pictorial evidence for plants provided by the Egyptian and Greek craftsmen who decorated the artefacts in the Ure Museum.


Risk strategies, domestication and the use of wild foods within early agricultural societies

Chris Stevens1

1 University College London, Institute of Archaeology

The transition from gathering to fully agricultural societies sees a shift from a reliance on a diverse range of wild foods to one in which cereals form the major staple. Such a transition can be viewed in part as a product of domestication, as cereals become increasingly under human control they become a more reliable source of calories. Following Halstead and O’Shea (1982) it can also be viewed as a change in risk strategies in which diversity and mobility are substituted with storage and eventually exchange with increasing social complexity.

This paper explores these concepts for millet agriculture within Northern China. Using grain measurements and morphology the domestication process for millets is tracked to between 6500/6000 to 3500/3000 BC. The domestication process is then compared to the evidence for diet seen by the proportions of wild to cultivated foods in the archaeobotanical record,  shifts in diet from C3 (wild plant foods) to C4 plants (predominately millets) in the isotope record, and changes in storage practices. The results indicate that such transitions in subsistence strategies probably occurred in the latter half of the domestication process between 4500-3500 BC.


Macroscopic soil charcoal as an indicator of historical land use

Pille Tomson1

1Estonian University of Life Sciences

Slash and burn cultivation (SBC) was common until the 19th century in the woodlands of northern Europe but legacies of this cultivation method are not comprehensively studied. Cadastral maps from the 19th century allow study the traces of SBC in todays’ soils.

Fieldworks were carried out in 105 sites with different land use recorded in the 19th century.  Recent wildfire places and experimental slash and burn field were included to provide reference information.

Macroscopic charcoal was registered in the 97% studied sites. The charcoal located in highest position in case of recent forest fires and experimental slash and burn field. The deepest locations were connected with arable fields. In historical forest land the charcoal tended to be higher than in former slash and burn sites.

In arable fields and slash and burn sites the main mechanism translocating the soil charcoal have been erosion caused by cultivation, but also earthworms contribute remarkably. In case of forest fires the main is tree uprooting. The oldest charcoal is dated back BP 4940 +/- 50  year. The high variability of charcoal in time and space complicate the studies.


Multiproxy approach to the study of pollen taphonomy: a case study based on the corroded pollen grains from Abric Romaní level M (NE Iberian Peninsula).

Cristina Val-Peón1,2, Isabel Expósito1,2, Aitor Burguet-Coca1,2 and Francesc Burjachs1,2,3

1 IPHES, Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social, Zona Educacional 4 – Campus Sescelades URV (Edifici W3), 43007-Tarragona, Spain.

2 Àrea de Prehistòria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), Av. Catalunya 35, 43002- Tarragona, Spain.

3 ICREA, Institucio Català de Recerca i Estudis Avançats, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

Pollen taphonomic alterations have their origin in several agents affecting the composition of the palynological record (Campbell, 1999). Characterise the original strata and features that influenced deposit formation processes are a key to understand taphonomic damages, but the study of  palynomorphs’ alterations could also help to understand sedimentation conditions and dissimilarities in formation processes (Expósito and Burjachs, 2016; Lebreton et al., 2010).

A current project focused on the taphonomical study of the pollen assemblage from the level M of the Abric Romaní archaeological site (NE Iberia), have provided different taphonomic damages affecting pollen grains. One of them is what we have defined as corrosion, already mentioned by some authors (Cushing, 1967; Havinga, 1984; Holloway, 1989), but still not well defined and illustrated. For a better understanding of the possible origin of this damage, we present a multiproxy study comparing phytoliths and pollen grains alterations in the samples where corroded grains have been identified, and contextualizing the samples in their sedimentary environment by the data obtained from FTIR (Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy) analysis. In this way we want, not only to shed light on this topic, but open a debate about the study of taphonomic features under the microscope from a multidisciplinary approach.


The role of human activity in the decline of Sphagnum austinii (Sull. ex Aust.): evidence from Irish peatlands

Dan Young1

1 University of Reading, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science

The decline of Sphagnum austinii Sull. ex Aust. (formerly S. imbricatum Hornsch. Ex Russ.) has been described as “the most striking vegetation change on the raised bogs of Britain and Northwest Europe during the last 2000 years” (Hughes et al., 2008: p.1033), with significant implications for the conservation and restoration of raised peatlands in this area. A dominant species in ombrotrophic peatlands across the United Kingdom, Ireland and North-West Europe during the Middle to Late Holocene, its decline over the period ca. 220-920 cal BP (McClymont et al., 2008) means that it is now only scarcely recorded: in the British Isles it is confined to only a few sites in Scotland, north-west Wales and Ireland (Swindles et al., 2015). Recent investigations have shown that the contraction in its range shows no uniformity, either temporally or spatially, and various factors have been suggested for the cause of its decline, including climate change (increased bog surface wetness), competition between species, an increase in atmospheric particulate matter, human disturbance of peatlands and genetic erosion (see Swindles et al., 2015).

Utilising a new proxy-hydrological dataset arising from testate-amoebae and plant macrofossil analysis, combined with a series of geochemical analyses from four raised peatland sites, we present evidence for human activity being a leading factor in the decline of S. austinii in Irish raised peatlands.


Poster Abstracts


Absence of Evidence or Evidence of Absence? Incipient Horticulture and the Green River Archaic Shell Middens in Kentucky, USA

Katharine Alexander1

1University of Kentucky
The earliest evidence of plant domestication in the US Eastern Woodlands comes from lowland riverine sites, yet upland rockshelter sites provide some of the best evidence. Other researchers have hypothesized that these plants were first domesticated in riparian environments and only later adopted in upland regions, where dry rockshelters offer optimal preservation conditions for macrobotanical remains. However, previous paleoethnobotanical research indicates early cultigens are largely absent among Late Archaic (~3000 to 1000 BCE) shell midden sites in the Green River valley in Kentucky, despite their abundance in nearby rockshelter deposits dating to the subsequent Early Woodland (~1000 to 200 BCE) period. Thus, it is unclear whether domestication first occurred in riverine areas and only later spread to upland regions, or the seeds of useful wild riparian species were intentionally planted in upland areas, or some combination of these two possibilities.  Current research is investigating the extent to which scant evidence of these early cultigens at the Green River Archaic shell midden sites reflects prehistoric plant use, preservation conditions, and/or previous recovery strategies. This poster presents preliminary results as well as implications for the ecological and social context and consequences of this transformative shift in subsistence strategy in human prehistory.


Altar of fire – microarchaeological insights into a Late Chalcolithic (3350-3000 BCE) ceremonial context from the site of Arslantepe (Malatya, Turkey)

Susanna Cereda1

1University of Vienna

In this poster, the author will present the results of a microarchaeological study conducted on the 4th millennium BCE palace of Arslantepe. During this period, the site experienced the formation of a proto-state system that found its physical expression in the construction of monumental mud-brick buildings with administrative and ceremonial functions. In particular, room A1358 was originally interpreted as a “banquet room” because of its location within the complex and its peculiar structural features, such as a long narrow platform and a fireplace built directly on top of it. A micromorphological and geochemical (spot tests – carbohydrates; carbonates; protein residues; phosphates) investigation was carried out to provide a high-resolution analysis of this space and the results offer a new interpretation of its ceremonial use. Indeed, the clear concentration of plant ashes, trapped between the multiple re-makings of the fireplace, paired with the generally clean deposits on and around the platform, refute the idea of a “banquet room” and instead point towards a ritual use of this space, involving the repeated burning of wood. In this case, the recognition and spatial patterning of micro-residues proved invaluable in the study of this ceremonial context and in understanding the use of plants in ritual practices.


Anthracological data from Taltal, a fog-oasis in the coastal desert of Chile

Ayelen Delgado Orellana1

1University College London

The vegetation of Taltal area (25° south) corresponds to fog oasis similar to “lomas formation” in the coast of Perú.  The vegetation of this ecosystem relays mainly on fog water, and presents a high degree of endemism. Several archaeological sites have been identified along the cost of this region, showing evidence of human occupation since the early Holocene. Although the main economic and subsistence activities of the prehispanic populations are related to the exploitation of marine resources, the recent archaeobotanical results show a diversified use of native plant species since the beginning of the human occupation in the area.

Altogether, the anthracological data available considers 6 different archaeological sites covering a wide temporal range of at least 10,000 years. Since the archaeological contexts are diverse in terms of chronology, location and function, the taxonomic identification is discussed considering these variables. Special attention is paid to taphonomic processes due to the large amount of charcoal fragments exhibiting vitrification.


Epi-fluorescent phytoliths: a proxy for fire?

Yannick Devos1, Luc Vrydaghs1, Barbora Wouters2, 3

1 Centre de Recherches en Archéologie et Patrimoine, Université Libre de Bruxelles

2 Centre for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet), School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University

3 Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Different methods have been applied to identify whether phytoliths have been heated: morphological alterations, changes in colour, refractive index (Elbaum et al., 2003) and Raman spectroscopy (Pironon et al 2001). As not all phytoliths seem to be affected in the same way, these methods obviously show their limitations. Besides the fact that some of them are quite difficult to apply on soil and sediment thin sections, none provide satisfactory results for sufficient discrimination between burned and unburned phytoliths (Evett and Cuthrell 2017).

Our observations of phytoliths in hearths and other combustion features revealed that phytoliths typically appear to be epi-fluorescent. First analyses show that this is probably related to the formation of a Ca-phosphorus-rich coating.

Further research on the origin and the formation of these coatings will be conducted to verify whether this technique can be used as a proxy for the heating of phytoliths.


Elbaum, R., Weiner, S., Albert, R.M., Elbaum, M., 2003. Detection of burning plant materials in the archaeological record by changes in the refractive indices of siliceous phytoliths. Journal of Archaeological Science, 30, 217-226.

Evett, R. R. and Cuthrell, R.Q., 2017. Testing phytolith analysis approaches to estimate the prehistoric anthropogenic burning regime on the central California coast. Quaternary International, 434, 78-90.

Pironon, J., Meunier, J.D., Alexandre, A., Mathieu, R ., Mansuy, L., Grosjean, A., Jarde, E., 2001. Individual characterisation of phytoliths : experimental approach and consequences on palaeoenvironmental understanding. In : Meunier, J.D. and Colin, F. (Eds.), Phytoliths: applications in earth sciences and human history. A.A. Balkena Publisher, Lisse, pp. 329-341.


The slash-and- burn cultivation: a view from the soil

Ershova1, E. Ponomarenko, P. Tompson, Pille, V. Bakumenko, N. Lavrenov

1 Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia

The slash-and-burn cultivation is believed to be a wide-spread, almost ubiquitous type of agriculture that has been utilized by the populations of the Eurasian forest zone from the Bronze Age to the 1930-s. However, the diagnostic features of this cultivation in the soil are unknown. Recently, P.Tomson identified the sites where the slash-and-burn cultivation was utilized in 19th century in Estonia based on the archival evidence. The precise location of the sites and their recent utilization (the current tree stands are growing on the surfaces affected by the slash-and-burn  cultivation) offer an unique opportunity for documenting the soil features associated with the slash-and-burn cultivation. This paper presents first results of a detailed study of the palinological, anthracological, phytolith, and trace fossil signatures of the slash-and-burn cultivation in sandy forest soils.


Late Neolithic Landscape Exploitation in Central Anatolia: Micromorphological Observations of Plant Remains from Midden Contexts at Çatalhöyük and Pınarbaşı

Aroa García-Suárez1

1 University of Reading, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science

The excellent preservation of accumulated plant materials in anthropogenic midden deposits at the sites of Çatalhöyük (8th-6th millennium BC cal) and Pınarbaşı (9th-7th millennium BC cal), in Central Anatolia, allows for the investigation of the ecological strategies practised by these two neighbouring communities. In this research, which focuses on the Late Neolithic occupation levels at these sites, the micromorphological examination of undisturbed midden sequences has provided important new information on the range and nature of activities performed in these open spaces.

At Çatalhöyük, midden deposits are composed of rapidly accumulated fuel materials of plant origin, mainly charred and silicified cereal husks as well as wild reeds and grasses, with minor inputs of calcitic ashes, faecal waste, and various types of sediment aggregates with diverse depositional pathways. By contrast, open spaces at the campsite of Pınarbaşı are characterised by large concentrations of wood charcoal and re-deposited charred herbivore faecal material displaying embedded phytoliths from wild reeds and grasses, likely representing repeated dung-burning events. These results point to the different fuel types used at these two sites, possibly related to the immediate availability of specific fuel sources within the local landscape.


Multi-proxy analysis of a peat deposit from Brussels (Belgium): a case study for the Holocene evolution of the landscape in the Senne valley

Elena Marinova1, Yannick Devos, Lien Speleers, Femke Augustijns, Sarah Hautekiet, Luc Vrydaghs and Rosalie Hermans, Sylvianne Modrie

1 Cultural Heritage Baden-Württemberg

Whereas the evolution of the land cover of the Holocene landscape is rather well documented for the main basin of the Scheldt river (Verbruggen et al., 1996), the vegetation history of Senne valley remains poorly documented.

Over the last decade, during the systematic archaeological survey conducted by the Monuments and Sites Directorate of the Brussels Capital Region, several exceptionally well preserved meters thick peat deposits have been discovered in the historical centre of Brussels and its surroundings. One of these sites reveals a nearly continuous paleoenvironmental sequence throughout the Holocene. The interdisciplinary study including palynology, paleofire studies, macrobotanical analysis and phytolith studies) offers a huge potential to explore the evolution of the vegetation development in the river valley. As the site is situated in the historical city centre it will also allow us to reconstruct the impact of the urbanisation on the natural vegetation and transformation of the peat land ecosystem into urban and cultivated areas in Brussels and its immediate surroundings.


Verbruggen, C., Denys, L., Kiden, P., 1996. Belgium. In: Berglund, B.E., Birks, H.J.B., Ralska-Jasiewiczowa, M., Wright, H.E. (Eds), Palaeoecological events during the last 15,000 years: regional syntheses of palaeoecological studies of lakes and mires in Europe. Wiley,Chichester, pp. 553–574.


Coprolites from the Connley Caves, Oregon: Dietary Insights from the Micro, Macro, and Molecular Contents

Katelyn N. McDonough1

1 Palynology Research Laboratory and Center for the Study of the First Americans, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University

The Connley Caves site is composed of eight rockshelters situated in a south-facing ridge of welded tuff on the margin of Paulina Marsh in the Fort Rock Basin of central Oregon. The majority of work at the site has focused on the late Pleistocene and early Holocene components, while much less is known about human activity during the middle and late Holocene. A recently uncovered latrine feature at the mouth of Cave 5 presents a unique opportunity to investigate aspects of human diet and environment at the caves during the onset of the late Holocene. Twelve coprolites from this feature were analyzed for microscopic and macroscopic contents, including pollen, macrobotanicals, faunal remains, and hormones. A wide variety of plants and animals were represented, suggesting a broad-spectrum diet that included wetland and terrestrial plant resources, fish, birds, and mammals. Results of the coprolite analysis and new AMS radiocarbon ages are presented here.


People and Plants in Northern Peru: The palaeobotany of Gramalote

Rossana Paredes1

1 Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University

The Gramalote site is an early Initial Period (1500–1200 cal B.C.) fishing village located in the Moche valley in northern Peru. Previous research assessed the social dynamics and economic interactions within that fishing settlement. The well-preserved animal and plant record facilitates the archaeological study of diet and subsistence strategies through time. The examinations of faunal remains of seabirds, sea mammals, and mollusk shells support the expected marine-oriented

subsistence strategy. However, the site also contains a long record of botanical remains suggesting that people had access to plant resources. For this reason, a palaeobotanical study was conducted with the focus on reconstructing the pollen record of Gramalote. Previously identified botanical remains were also considered. The analysis of diverse botanical proxies helped to study the relationships between humans and plants in this region of northern Peru during the second millennium B.C. Grasses; reeds; food, woody and wild plants were identified suggesting an environment that allowed small-scale agriculture and a trading network during the Initial Period of Gramalote.


Addressing challenges in the investigation of Mesolithic heatrh pits an drealted plant remains using micromorphology: the case of El Arenal de la Virgen (SE Iberia)

Polo-Díaz1, M. Gómez Puche1, J. Fernández López de Pablo1,2

1 IPHES- Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social, Tarragona, Spain

2 Area de Prehistoria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona

Hearth pits are frequently documented in mesolithic sites, particularly in central Europe. The archaeological relevance of these features lies in two main aspects: 1- the artefacts and plant remains preserved in them are at the core of the characterisation of behaviour and environments of the last hunter-gatherer communities; 2- charcoal retrieved from them are commonly used to provide an absolute chronological framework for human activities and palaeoclimatic fluctuations detected during the Early Holocene.

Coincidentally, mesolithic hearth pits occur frequently in open air sites and are subject to continued exposure to surface conditions that can hinder the preservation of archaeological features.

Because of such circumstances the investigation of the variables involved in the accumulation and taphonomy of the sedimentary contexts where artefacts and plant remains are preserved should be a priority.

This work  presents the methodological approach used to address the formation process of the hearth pits documented at El Arenal de la Virgen, an Early Mesolithic (9.3 – 8.6 Kyr) camp site located in continental dunes at the margins of the Villena paleolake in SE Iberia. In particular, we focus on the micromorphological analyses currently conducted on the sediments from the site. Our purpose is to emphasise the role of high-resolution geoarchaeology to improve our understanding of the formative history of early mesolithic hearth pits and the charred archaeobotanical evidence preserved in them.


The ethnoarcheology of dung fuels: an example from Iraqi Kurdistan

Marta Portillo1, Gearogia Allistone1 and Wendy Matthews1

1 University of Reading, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science

Bestansur (Iraqi Kurdistan) is a key site for understanding the transition from mobile hunter-gatherers to early sedentary farmers. Research at the site explores early human-animal interactions and animal management, diet, ecology and dung use, such as fuel. A range of fire technologies were used in external areas, ovens, and within buildings. This study builds up in previous ethnoarchaeological research conducted in the site area and modern reference materials collected during the last field season in spring 2017. Livestock dung was commonly used as fuel until the 1980s with the introduction of gas cooking and heating. Today dung is mostly used as fertilizer, but still used residually as fuel source. This research aims to exploring dung early Neolithic fuel use through integrated phytolith and dung spherulite studies.

Phytolith assemblages consisted mainly of leaves and the stems of Pooideae, wild weed grasses and common reeds (Phragmites sp.). Dung spherulites were noted in all contexts, including ashy deposits from open spaces and oven fillings. The presence of both dung and grass phytoliths in oven and ashy deposits is widely related to fuel remains, although pooids and reeds may have many different uses, such as matting and building material, with a significant input to fuel and/or fodder, as observed here. These results are consistent with our modern datasets from the site vicinity. Interestingly, evidence from partially melted phytoliths (indicative of high temperatures, above 700 C) was also noted in most of the samples, in association to a relative low spherulite content, possibly related to degradation linked to high temperatures as well. These associations may provide some insights into burning temperatures within the installations. Ongoing experimental research is further exploring the effects of burning under laboratory controlled conditions to better understand microfossil changes when exposed to a range of temperatures.


More than crops: assessing the wild plant evidence in a horticultural context of Southern Chile through phytolith analysis

Constanza Roa Solís1 and Débora Zurro2

1 Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona

2 Institució Milá i Fontanals – CSIC, Barcelona

Araucania is a region of Southern Chile inhabited by the Mapuche indigenous people, whose subsistence relies mostly on native crops and Old World cattle, still maintaining an important gathering activity for different purposes such as fuel, medicine, and food. Nowadays wild plants are considered an important part of their lives.

Carpology and anthracology analyses performed on settlements of El Vergel Complex (AD 1000-1550), revealed the dominance of crops such as quinoa and maize, along with few wild berries, grains, and a variety of woody taxa.

Los Catalanes cave is an archaeological site occupied during the whole Ceramic Period (ca. AD 400-1550) when crops started to be used together with pottery. Other social features of this period, such as an increased sedentarism, point to the development of a way of life closer to agriculture.

The role of Los Catalanes site is a matter of study today. This research aims at assessing plant use in the site, not only through the study of charred remains, but also analyzing ash features present in the cave, along with other sediment samples.


Field cultivation or Gardening. The site Atuatuca Tungrorum (Tongeren, Belgium)

Vrydaghs1, B. Wouters2,3, T.B. Ball4 and Y. Devos1

1 Centre de Recherches en Archéologie et Patrimoine, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium.

2 Centre for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet), School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University, Denmark.

3 Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

4 Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, USA

Various plant remains, such as pollen, fruit, and seeds, can be recovered from archaeological units. Some taxa, including many cultivated crops, also produce phytoliths. Thus phytoliths recovered from archaeological units can be an additional source of data for the study of agricultural practices.

Because phytoliths are formed from opal that precipitates within plant tissues, how they are released from the plant tissue and/or deposited and preserved in archaeological contexts are significant questions researchers should consider when conducting phytolith analysis. Unfortunately, traditional methodologies used to extract phytoliths from archaeological samples, which typically include aggressive mixing and acid treatments of the samples, obliterate most depositional and preservation contexts.

In contrast to traditional extraction methodologies, phytoliths in soil thin sections maintain their relative distribution and relation to other components in the soil matrix, thus allowing researchers to analyse their distribution patterns, visibility and preservation within the soils and sediments in which they were deposited. Integrating all these strands of evidence with micromorphology can provide additional data to help researchers discriminate field cultivation from gardening.

The present poster intends to illustrate such an approach by analyzing phytoliths observed in soil thin sections taken from several dark earth units from the site of Atuatuca Tungrorum (Tongeren, Belgium).


Integrated Microscopy Sessions

Microscope session: Analysis of Macroscopic and Microscopic Charcoal (Catherine Barnett, Petra Dark, Koen DeForce, Hans Huisman)

Following an introduction by Catherine, Hans Huisman will give a talk and then practical session on charcoal degradation as seen in thin section. We will then hold practical microcharcoal and macrocharcoal sessions as below. The session is intended to be informal, fun and flexible, feel free to bring your own material or look at ours and ask questions. If there is pressure on particular material, we can divide up to look at macrocharcoal then circulate.

Hans Huisman: Degradation of charcoal: an overview (G08), see abstract under papers

Practical microcharcoal session with Petra Dark

Practical session on heath and scrub taxa with Koen DeForce

Practical macrocharcoal session with Catherine Barnett and Koen DeForce


Microscope session: Dung- microbotanical remains and associated features (Rowena Banerjea and Lionello Morandi)

This session will examine the microbotanical remains of dung and its associated microscopic features such as non-pollen palynomorphs, particularly coprophilous fungal spores, intestinal parasite eggs, pollen, phytoliths, and calcareous faecal spherulites. During our session, there will an opportunity to examine dung in micromorphology thin-sections from a variety of depositional contexts from a variety of geographical locations, and to look at a range of microfossils of different origin. In particular, there will be slides made from modern surface samples rich in dung spores (UK and Italy), slides from bogs and alluvial sequences rich in freshwater algae (Italy and Peru), and slides from archaeological latrines with a high concentration of parasite eggs (Latvia).

Introduction to Dung and its microbotanical remains and associated features by Rowena Banerjea

Introduction to coprophilous fungal spores by Lionello Morandi

Practical session with Rowena Banerjea, Lionello Morandi, Wendy Matthews, Aroa García-Suárez and Marta Portillo


Microscope session: Phytoliths (Marta Portillo and Martin J. Hodson)

This section starts with a short introduction by Martin Hodson on phytolith taphonomy on ‘What happens to a phytolith in the soil?’ (see abstract above) followed by a microscope session where phytolith slides from modern plants, a varied range of archaeological samples from different time periods across territories, as well as ethnoarchaeological and experimental samples related to livestock dung fuels and cereal-processing will be available. Participants are very welcome to bring their slides and unknowns.


Microscope session: Waterlogged plant macrofossil remains from archaeological sites and wetlands (Daniel Young, Dorian Fuller, Rowena Banerjea)

In this session we will examine a range of waterlogged plant macrofossil remains (leaves, stems, flowers, fruits and seeds), from a selection of sites including fens, raised bogs, and waterlogged archaeological contexts. Topics for discussion will include the use of waterlogged plant material from fens and bogs as a record of vegetation history and environmental change, particularly in the context of prehistoric human activity. We will discuss issues such as the taphonomy of waterlogged archaeological contexts, differential preservation of macrofossil remains in fens and bogs, and the interpretation of these assemblages. We will also discuss the relevance and application of palaeobotanical records for wetland management (for example peatland restoration). There will be an opportunity to examine some plant macroremains in micromorphology thin-sections from archaeological sites (with Rowena Banerjea).