IMAA 2017 Abstracts

Please find here a complete list of paper, poster and workshop abstracts.


Morphometric analyses of phytoliths


Terry Ball1

1 Brigham Young University

Morphometric analysis (measurements of size and shape) has become a significant research tool in phytolith studies. This presentation will review the role of morphometric analysis in phytolith studies, the principles and practices used in its application, criteria for data collection and publication, definitions for basic measurements and software for computer-assisted image analysis.


Early colonising animal husbandry and alimentation activities within two Teutonic Order castles in Prussia (Poland) and Livonia (Estonia and Latvia)


Rowena Banerjea1, Monika Badura, Alex Brown, Lionello Morandi, Gundula Müldner, Marcin Marcinkowski, Heike Valk, Aleks Pluskowski

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


Integrated micromorphology, phytolith, non-pollen palynomorph, pollen, zooarchaeology and isotopic analyses from two 13th century Teutonic Order castles, Karksi (Livonia), and Elbląg (Prussia), examine the livestock management and alimentation practices during the Crusades. The research from these two sites examines practices of the initial military colonisers during the Crusades.

At Karksi, a key administrative centre in Livonia, in the area which later served as the High Castle, the investigation of a midden and organic-rich sediment beneath presented a unique opportunity to study the diachronic use of this area. Freshwater aquatic indicators (Zygnemataceae and Thecamoebae), are consistent with the occurrence of shallow stagnant water, as also suggested by a water-laid pond sediment identified in thin section. A variety of coprophilous taxa indicate the use of the pond as a watering place for the livestock, along with trampled leaf-fodder deposits containing fish gills identified by micromorphology. Plant macrofossils from the midden represent a range of habitats, mostly remains of species from wet/damp areas, and those representing the presence of pastures and meadows, and woodlands and wooded fringes by the remains of collected edible fruits.

At Elbląg in Prussia, the initial headquarters of The Order, T. trichiura eggs may derive from animal feces, as it is difficult to separate human- and animal-specific species on the basis of the size. Herbivore dung with parasite eggs, was observed in thin-section, and a range of coprophilous taxa were extracted. Phytolith and pollen evidence again shows early colonisers use a mixed grain/leaf fodder diet for livestock, with a move to grain and grass later on.




Birth of an oppidum: the development of the Silchester landscape

Catherine Barnett1

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

A broad range of scientific approaches have been applied to materials recovered through 20 years of excavations of the Iron Age and Roman town of Silchester and added enormously to our understanding of urban life and times including aspects of site formation, fuel use, diet, crafts and metalworking and the relationship with domestic animals and livestock. Less well understand is the landscape setting and human-environment relationships in the wider area which allowed the rapid establishment of such a significant place. The Silchester Environs Project is undertaking large scale prospective (AP, lidar, coring, geophysical and earthwork surveys) supported by excavation, multiproxy analysis and dating of sites in the surrounding 140kmsq to consider the evolution of the late prehistoric landscape, how it was divided, settled, managed and exploited and indeed what happened following the abandonment of the town. Preliminary results will be presented, including a critique of prospective methods, visibility issues and analytical techniques.


Late-glacial / early Holocene palaeoenvironments in the southern North Sea Basin: new data from the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm

Alex Brown 1,2, Jack Russell 1, Rob Scaife 3, John Whittaker 4, Sarah Wyles 5

1 Wessex Archaeology, Portway House, Old Sarum Park, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP46EB

2 Department of Archaeology, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Sciences, University of Reading, Whiteknights, PO Box 227, Reading, RG66AB, UK

3 Geography and Environmental Sciences, University of Southampton, University Road, Southampton, SO171BJ

4 Department of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW75BD, UK

5 Cotswold Archaeology, Stanley House, Walworth Road, Andover, Hampshire, SP105LH


It is well known that the North Sea conceals an extensive Late Pleistocene and early Holocene palaeolandscape. Archaeological finds from the seabed show this former landscape was occupied by humans during periods when sea-levels were significantly lower than today and the British Isles formed the north-western promontory of the European continental shelf. Renewed interest in submerged palaeolandscapes has occurred chiefly in response to increasing pressure from commercial aggregate dredging, oil and gas exploration and offshore windfarm developments. This paper presents the results of an integrated palaeoenvironmental study (pollen, foraminifera, ostracods, plant macrofossils, molluscs) of organic sediments taken as part of geoarchaeological investigations on the site of the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm. The sediments cover a period of as much as 4,400 years (12,700-8300 cal. BP), including a substantial peat covering the late Devensian/early Holocene transition (12700-9260 cal. BP). During the late Glacial the local environment is characterised by sub-alpine plant communities with open birch woodland, followed by development of birch and hazel woodland during the early Mesolithic. A phase of marine inundation occurred around 9500-9000 cal. BP, with a final marine inundation of the area around 8400 cal. BP, possibly linked to a meltwater pulse following the collapse of the Laurentide icesheet, precipitating major palaeogeographic and climatic changes within and beyond the North Sea. The results begin to address the deficiency in detailed palaeoenvironmental studies from the area, providing new data on patterns of physical, vegetation and environmental change in the context of rising post-glacial sea-levels.


(No) shit! Interpreting pollen assemblages from medieval and post medieval cesspits


Koen Deforce 1

1 Flanders Heritage Institute & Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium


Medieval and post medieval cesspits are frequently excavated in the historical centres of NW European cities. As these generally contain a lot of food remains, both eaten and not, and provide good preservation conditions, these are an important source of information on former plant use, especially in diet. Cesspits are therefore routinely analysed for botanical macro remains. Pollen analysis from cesspits, on the other hand, is only rarely applied. Next to the generally lower taxonomic level of identification, the identification of the source from which the pollen in cesspits originates is less straightforward than for macro remains, which makes the interpretation of the pollen assemblage much more difficult.

An important number of cesspits from the Netherlands and Northern Belgium has recently been studied for pollen. Based on these results, the possible sources of the identified pollen types will be  discussed as well as the different types of information that can be obtained through pollen analysis of cesspits. The results demonstrate that pollen analyses can potentially provide information on the consumption of different food plants, honey and drinks but also on the pharmaceutical use of plants and on the use of peat as a fuel. Remarkably, most of this information is invisible in the results of the macro botanical analyses of the same contexts. Additionally, eggs of intestinal parasite remains that are also present in the studied pollen slides provide information on past sanitary conditions.


Integrating phytolith studies and soil micromorphology: the importance of distribution patterns to understand the depositional history of phytoliths

Yannick Devos1, Luc Vrydaghs1, Cristiano Nicosia1

1 CReA-Patrimoine, ULB

The common practice for studying phytoliths is to take bulk samples with a trowel. In the laboratory the sediment in which the phytoliths are embedded is subsequently put in various solutions and vigorously stirred. This implies that the original distribution patterns of the phytoliths within soils or sediments are lost: articulated phytoliths become disarticulated (see for example Jenkins 2009; Shillito 2011), and phytoliths deriving from different taxa or plant parts are mixed together. Integrating phytolith analysis and soil micromorphology has the potential to be a valuable alternative to these disruptive extraction methods (Vrydaghs et al. 2016). Present contribution intends to discuss, focussing on medieval and post-medieval urban contexts from Brussels and Flanders, the contribution of such an integrated approach to understand the taphonomical history of the phytoliths in different types of urban deposits, and their potential to contribute to differentiate different practices involving cereals (e.g. crop growing, fodder, food preparation and consumption).


Jenkins, E., 2009. Phytolith taphonomy: a comparison of dry ashing and acid extraction on the breakdown of conjoined phytoliths formed in Triticum durum. J. Archaeol. Sci. 36, 2402-2407.

Shillito, L.M., 2011. Taphonomic observations of archaeological wheat phytoliths from neolithic Çatal Hüyük and the use of conjoined phytolith size as an indicator of water availability. Archaeometry 53 (3), 631-641.

Vrydaghs, L., Ball, T.B. & Devos, Y., 2016. Beyond redundancy and multiplicity. Integrating phytolith analysis and micromorphology to the study of Brussels Dark Earth. J. Archaeol. Sci. 68, 79-88.


Dung as archaeological resource: a micromorphological investigation of the taphonomy and preservation of dung in the Greek Neolithic


Georgia Koromila1

1 University of Reading


Recent research has identified the potential of dung as key archaeological resource to address issues such as animal management, diet and ecology, recycling practices and uses of fuel and fertiliser, and the complex web of human-animal interrelationships. This paper employs thin section analysis to examine the types, depositional pathways, taphonomy, and preservation of dung remains identified in three Neolithic sites in northern Greece. The case studies represent a spectrum of settlement morphologies, including a typical tell site with vertical accretion, and two extended settlement types with more complex, vertical and lateral, stratigraphies. The results show a clear differentiation in the abundance, deposition, and preservation of dung-derived sediment components between site types. In the tell dung components, such as faecal calcareous spherulites, phytoliths, and phosphatic aggregates, are predominant in the composition of sediments formed in a range of contexts, in open areas and within buildings. These abundant and widespread dung-derived components frequently preserve their contextual and depositional associations and thereby enable interpretation of some deposits as likely penning, as well as the examination of plant content in dung as direct evidence on animal diet. In contrast, in the flat/extended sites dung remains were identified in much lower percentages, mainly as disaggregated and dispersed remains. Variations identified in the relative abundance of dung components in stratigraphic succession may indicate fluctuations in the input of dung content contributing to the formation of these deposits. This contrasting picture highlights formation processes as a key factor affecting the preservation of dung and its potential for interpretation.


Humans and Fire: changing relations in early sedentary agricultural communities. New evidence from micro-contextual analysis of burnt remains


Wendy Matthews1

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


This paper examines the changing relations between humans and fire during the transition from mobile hunting-gathering to more sedentary farming in the Middle East, 10,000-6,000 BC. It examines how new insights into human-fire relations can be provided by integrated archaeobotanical approaches that include micro-contextual (micromorphological) and biomolecular (GC-MS) analyses of the composition and preservation of organic remains in burnt contexts.  The case-studies are largely from the central Zagros region of Iraq and Iran, one of the core regions in the spread of farming populations (Lazaridis et al. 2016 Nature), with comparative reference to Çatalhöyük, in Central Anatolia. The paper highlights the diversity of plant materials, parts and genera and other organic remains detected in burnt contexts, including phytoliths, charred plant remains, calcitic ashes and pseudomorphs, and dung, and examines the potential of other analytical techniques.  The case studies investigate the multiple links between human-fire use and environment, ecology, energy use, technology, the built environment, social and cultural practices, and catastrophic events (Matthews 2016 The Anthrop. Rev). There is considerable evidence of increasing control and domestication of fire within built environments, and of local and regional variation in the availability, management and collection of fuel resources. One of the most significant changes was in the increasing use of dung fuel associated with increasing sedentism and plant and animal domestication.  The implications for sustainable energy use today are also briefly considered.

Pollen analysis fused with archaeology – a way forward for understanding the domestication of Amazonia?


Frank Mayle1

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

In recent decades, remarkable archaeological discoveries of anthropogenic soils, monumental earthworks, causeways, canals and raised fields challenge the old paradigm of Amazonia as a pristine wilderness and instead suggest that pre-Columbian Amazonia supported populous, complex societies, with much greater environmental impacts than previously thought possible.  However, the relationship of these societies with their tropical environmental remains highly contentious, in large part due to a lack of palaeoenvironmental data to complement these archaeological discoveries.  This talk explores how fossil pollen and charcoal analyses of lake sediments, when integrated with evidence from neighbouring archaeological excavations, can provide important insights into past human land use and the chronology of cultural changes.  Fossil pollen and charcoal data can reveal the extent of deforestation, burning and forest management, as well as information on crop cultivation, in particular maize, but also other key cultigens such as manioc and sweet potato. Pollen data from small ponds and large lakes can reveal land use at local and regional scales, respectively.  Aside from providing the environmental context of human occupation, lake sediment cores can often provide more continuous and higher resolution time series than is possible with archaeological deposits, which are often discontinuous.  This talk draws on my past and ongoing collaborative research in SW Amazonia to illustrate how an integrative approach, coupling archaeology with lake-based palaeoecological studies, can provide important new insights into the domestication of Amazonia.


Drawing a thin line: Seed coat thickness in modern and archaeological Horsegram (Macrotyloma uniflorum) from South Asia

Charlene Murphy1, Dorian Q Fuller1

1 UCL, Institute of Archaeology

Horsegram has been an important crop since the beginning of agriculture in many parts of South Asia. Today it is a major vegetable protein source for hundreds of millions of Indians. Despite horsegram’s beneficial properties as a hardy, multi­functional crop, it is still regarded as a food of the poor, particularly in southern India. As a consequence horsegram has received far less research than higher status pulses, such as Indian Vigna (V. radiata, V. mungo) or pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan).  Therefore, little scientific agrarian and archaeobotanical research has been carried out on this legume to date. To remedy this issue morphometric measurements, including length, width, and thickness were carried out on both modern and Indian archaeological assemblages of horsegram to determine evolutionary rates of change and patterns of domestication over time in an attempt to understand horsegram’s evolutionary trajectory in South Asia.

We used SEM to measure the seed coat thickness of dissected modern samples of Horsegram and high resolution x-ray computed tomography using a Synchrotron to measure coat thickness, undertaken at Diamond Light Source, UK, on intact archaeological samples of horsegram to examine rates of change in seed coat thickness in relation to domestication over time to determine if seed coat thickness is one of the phenotypic traits affected by humans’ domesticating horsegram during the Neolithic (3rd­-2nd Millennium BC) in South Asia.

The ethnoarchaeology of livestock dung fuel: phytoliths and calcitic microfossil evidence


Marta Portillo1

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


Livestock dung is a valuable resource in many communities worldwide. Livestock supply a predictable production of dung which can be used in many ways, including manure, fuel and tempering. Such is the case in our research area, the site of Althiburos and its surroundings, now el Médéïna (meaning the “small town”), located in the Tunisian High Tell. Within present-day rural communities, ovicaprine dung is the main source of fuel used for daily cooking in mud cylindrical tannur type ovens, locally called tabouna. Dung fuels can be re-used, stored and later discarded or used as fertilizer in household gardens. This research integrates i) ethnographic observations and informal interviews with farmers on dung collection, management, storage, waste disposal and cooking activities; ii) temperature measurements within the burning fuel; iii) as well as modern material sampling (fresh dung, burned pellets, dung ashes and fuel trash paths), followed by integrated studies of opal phytoliths and calcitic microfossil analyses (dung spherulites and wood ash pseudomorphs) for comparative purposes. These are then contrasted with archaeological assemblages from nearby Numidian Althiburos, thus providing direct evidence for dung fuel use during the first millennium BC. These integrated studies demonstrate the value of the much-needed systematic ethnographic studies of dung to provide robust datasets for the development of models for the identification and interpretation of this regularly overlooked material in archaeology.



Does phytolith analysis of archaeological soil thin sections account for regional and local archaeobotanical data? The example of Brussels (Belgium)

Luc Vrydaghs1, Jean-Louis Slachmuylders2, Terry B. Ball3 and Yannick Devos1

1 Centre de Recherches en Archéologie et Patrimoine, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Avenue F.D. Roosevelt, 50, CP 175, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium

2 Research Team in Archaeo- and Palaeosciences, Avenue H. de Brouckère, 82, B-1160 Brussels, Belgium

3 Department of Ancient Scripture, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602 USA

Whilst phytoliths are plant microfossils, due to their formation process they differ markedly from any other plant remains. Consequently, their incorporation within archaeological deposits relies on specific taphonomical processes. The phytolith analysis of archaeological soil thin sections allows to document these processes and as such to discriminate between in- and exsitu phytoliths. This illustrates that if researchers hope to use phytoliths to reconstruct accurate local and regional vegetation histories for a site, the integration of micromorphology and phytolith analysis of soil thin sections to establish depositional histories is a useful and perhaps critical step. However and accordingly to the context you consider, as such analysis do not involve any concentration of the phytoliths, one needs to question how far such analysis are reliable in terms of spectra composition. This contribution intends to explore this issue.




Using geometric morphometrics to distinguish between cereal grains at species and below-species levels even after experimental charring

Michael Wallace1 @ArchaeoMichael, Vincent Bonhomme, Emily Forster, Eleanor Stillman, Michael Charles and Glynis Jones

1 University of Sheffield, Department of Archaeology

Geometric morphometric (GMM) analysis has the potential to refine archaeobotanical identifications, including the identification of as yet unquantified varietal differences within-species. A potential limitation of the approach is that many archaeobotanical remains have been preserved by charring, which is a process that distorts both the size and shape of plant remains. This presentation outlines the results of testing to assess the potential of GMM in archaeobotany. Grains of domesticated cereals were subjected to GMM outline analysis before and after charring with a view to establish whether (a) different species could be distinguished, (b) different accessions of the same species could be distinguished, and (c) whether differences could still be distinguished after charring. Positive results open up the possibility of using morphometrics to track the evolutionary change in crops.


Interpreting the plant macrofossil evidence from Bestansur: the taphonomy of a Neolithic site in Iraqi Kurdistan

Jade Whitlam1, Michael Charles1, Wendy Matthews2, Amy Bogaard1 and Roger Matthews2

1 University of Oxford, School of Archaeology

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

The archaeological site of Bestansur is located on the fertile Shahrizor Plain in the western foothills of the Central Zagros Mountains, Iraqi Kurdistan. The site is approximately half a hectare in extent and dominated by the 7.5m-high mound at its centre; formed from later Neo-Assyrian and Sassanian levels, with lower levels comprised of substantial Early Neolithic deposits (7600–7100 cal BC). Beginning in 2012, the Central Zagros Archaeological Project (CZAP) has carried out extensive excavations at the site, targeting Neolithic occupation on the lower slopes of the mound and in the surrounding fields.

A programme of systematic sampling for the recovery of charred plant remains was implemented during excavations. However, despite the large number of samples and volume of soil assessed from the site (650 samples, 17,556 litres) only small quantities of plant remains have been recovered, the majority of which are poorly preserved. Radiocarbon determinations on charred lentils from Neolithic contexts have also returned much later dates, indicating these are intrusive from later periods of occupation.

In this paper we consider how taphonomic processes at the site may have transformed the charred macrobotanical assemblage and the extent to which, if any, we can reliably interpret pattern in the archaeobotanical assemblage as reflecting human activity and plant use. We also pose the question of whether this is a local or regional phenomenon.





Poster Abstracts


Indoor floors from Gien (9th-10th c., France): building materials, use of space and site formation processes


Quentin Borderie1, Mélinda Bizri

1 Archives Départementales d’Eure-et-Loir et Archéologie


Floors of Early Middle Age houses are poorly known in France. Only a few have been found, generally in a bad condition of preservation due to well drained contexts. They mainly come from rural houses or pit-houses (Borderie 2016). In urban contexts, Dark Earth is predominant (Borderie 2011) and, until recently, the only indoor floors which have been sampled came from Noyon and Beauvais (Borderie 2011). But such floors from the 9th to 10th c. have been found at Gien (Loiret, France), during the rescue excavation of the 14th c. castle. Strata of four buildings have been sampled. First one is 0.30 m thick and composed of layers of 3 mm thick plant remains (phytoliths) and domestic refuses. The second, immediately succeeding the first, shows a 0.40 m thick superposition of thin earthen floors, vegetal floors (phytoliths) and layers of domestic refuse. The third strata is partly disturbed, showing ‘Dark Earth like’ deposits, in which are preserved the remains of earthen floors, vegetal floors and layers of domestic refuse. This type of disturbed remains has also been found in a pit, located beside the first strata and below the second. The fourth building is interpreted by archaeologist as a fortified place, where crafting activities have taking place, such as re-forging of iron tools (Bizri 2015). In this place, floors are made with plaster or limestone, not with vegetal, and there is a large amount of fireplace refuses, combined with domestic waste. These results give a lot of new information on Early Middle Age lifestyles and building activities. Moreover, they give important clues to better understand the formation of Dark Earth and the bad preservation of indoor layers in the contexts of complex urban strata.


The Vale of Pewsey: Marden Henge and the building

Elsie Brooks1

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


This project uses computer-based investigations of soil residue characteristics to produce tangible evidence of dynamic human movement. The future of this research lies in the increasing spatial scales, ranging from local to regional using patterns analysis, statistical programs and complementary scientific techniques. The primary archaeological site under investigation is Marden Henge, the site includes a well-preserved, rectangular chalk floor Neolithic building, clear breaks in the earthworks which indicate entranceways into the henge and possible causeways representing arterial routes through the landscape. Marden Henge is located in Wiltshire, it sits amongst Neolithic giants such as Stonehenge, Avebury and Durrington Walls and is also the site chosen for the Reading University Field School which takes place in partnership with Historic England. The aim is to bring a new perspective to human mobility representing a move away from traditional perceptions of archaeology as isolated events to the critical scientific investigation of connections within the landscape between sites and activity areas involving a focus on dynamic movement in contrast to conventional static approaches. Trample zones and activity areas will be effectively identified using an adjustable methodological framework including thin section analysis.

These thin sections are from Marden Henge, which is a vital monument within the Wiltshire Neolithic Wessex landscape. The large irregularly shaped henge has many unique characteristics and lies on the Greensand lowlands between the upper, Avebury and Stonehenge, chalk escarpments. A unique Neolithic chalk floored building was found during excavations by Historic England in 2010 located under the bank of the small inner henge at Marden. The building was fully excavated in 2015 by the Reading University Field School in collaboration with Historic England. It consisted of a large circle of stake holes (~52), a rectangular chalk surface with a sunken area in the centre with a central reddened hearth.


Ovicaprid diet and faecal spherulite production at Amara West, Sudan

Matthew Dalton 1

1 University of Cambridge, McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology

Drawing upon new research from the New Kingdom Egyptian settlement of Amara West in Sudan, this poster presents preliminary results of combined phytolith and faecal spherulite analysis of ovicaprid dung pellets in micromorphological thin section. Quantities of phytoliths in dung are a proxy for varying cereal and/or dicot vegetation in diets, and may therefore provide evidence of past foddering and grazing regimes. Furthermore, correlations between phytolith types and faecal spherulite densities in individual dung pellets suggest that only animals consuming enough calcium-rich vegetation, especially dicot leaves, will produce these features in their gut. This has important implications for the geoarchaeological interpretation of ancient dung.



Stratigraphic sequences in flood plain as archives of human colonization

E.G. Ershova1, E.V. Ponomarenko

1 Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia

A set of well-developed paleosols in the floodplain of the Moskva River was investigated using pollen and charcoal methods. The lower dark-colored soil of Boreal-Atlantic age contains pollen of steppe plants, charcoal and pollen of conifers are absent. It indicates that in the first half of the Holocene the landscapes of the floodplain were open: there was a steppe with some tundra elements in the early Holocene and forest-steppe through the AT. In the Subboreal and Subatlantic, soils had light-colored humus horizons and a well-developed horizon Bt typical for forest soils. Pollen and charcoal data suggest that spruce forests were widespread in the floodplain in the second half of the Holocene. The beginning of colonization of the area by archaeological cultures resulted in burning the forest and maintaining either treeless pastures or cultivated lands. Some signs of the land use, such as the pollen of ruderal plants and charred seeds of weeds, appear already at the end of the formation of the Atlantic soil, corresponding to the Neolithic. Signs of local anthropogenic disturbances of the vegetation cover are noted also in the pollen spectra and charcoal assemblages of the Bronze Age cultural layer. Numerous traces of intensive utilization of the floodplain by populations of the Iron Age and early Middle Ages are documented in the Subatlantic soil.








Stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N) insights into livestock management strategies during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age (1600-850 BC) in South-eastern Bulgaria


Delphine Frémondeau1, Elena Marinova, Bea De Cupere, Ivanka Hristova, Lazar Ninov, Krassimir Nikov, Hristo Popov


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


From the Late Bronze Age onwards, ancient Thrace underwent major social and economic changes: increased stratification of society, intensification of production and the establishment of a market economy, which resulted in a large human impact on the natural environment. All this likely brought about the necessity to adapt agricultural economy and animal husbandry practices. Stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N) analyses in archaeological plant and animal remains, which can provide a better understanding of livestock management strategies in the past, have been implemented in the framework of a larger project aiming at reconstructing subsistence economy, land use and their impact on the environment during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age in South-eastern Bulgaria. Preliminary results obtained from two sites (LBA and EIA Kush Kaya, EIA Vaskovo) reveal foddering management strategies that differ between species. They also suggest diachronic variations at the fortified settlement of Kush kaya, as well as the co-existence of a diversity of strategies depending on the site considered.


Examining the Relationship between the Environment and Late Holocene Societal Changes in the Peruvian Andes


Josie Handley1

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


Analysis of phytoliths and lead isotope data on samples taken from terrace and lake sequences within the Chicha-Soras Valley, Peru showed there was a high level of human activity in relation to the Middle Horizon (500-100 AD), the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1438 AD) and the Late Horizon (1438-1533). In terms of agricultural activity, the phytolith analysis identified maize as the main cultivar being grown one of the terraces, Tocotoccasa, with no clear cultivar type being identifiable on the second terrace, Infiernillo. Further analysis of additional palaeovegetation indicators are therefore required to confirm the scale of maize production and the absence of additional crops such as Chenopodium, not picked up in the phytolith record.

The phytolith slides prepared from the lake sediment cores indicated the potential for further development of analysis of lake sediments for phytoliths from the Peruvian Andes, with preservation equalling that within the terrace sediments. This would allow for a more in-depth vegetation reconstruction in future work and would provide valuable information on lake hydrology, local vegetation cover and levels of human activity within the region.

Finally the lead isotope analysis revealed a mixing in climatic and anthropogenic sources of lead pollution over the three cultural periods. An increase in lead concentration is seen with the transition between the Late Intermediate period and the Inca Period and this may potentially be linked to an increase in metallurgical activity and an amelioration in climatic conditions which likely increased population stability and encouraged state expansion.


The contribution of cryptogamic microfossils to the investigation of natural and cultural wetlands

Lionello Morandi1

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


A wealth of informative non-pollen palynomorphs is often neglected following to pollen extraction. However, their use in palaeocology increased from the 1980s and has also proved relevant to detect changes in hydrology and signs of human interference around settlements. The results from three case studies, following an increasing degree of anthropogenic influence, are presented. A natural sequence from a high-altitude mire in the Emilian Apennines (northwest Italy) was analysed in order to identify the onset of upland pastoralism in the region. Several ecological changes were detected, including the transition from open water to peat bog, along with evidence of mid-Holocene grazing. Deep cores from the alluvial plain of River Bisagno (Genoa), have revealed an alternation of periods of desiccation and flooding of the area as indicated by algal remains, as well as the unequivocal presence of herbivores around a site where possible remains of pile-dwellings have been found. The data are particularly relevant as the depth of the deposit makes the excavation difficult, and the occupation of lowland plains in the Neolithic of the region is poorly known. Samples taken during the excavation of a thirteen century fish pond at the castle of Karksi (southern Estonia) have shown the occurrence of aquatic indicators, and confirmed the presence of herbivores stabled on the site following to desiccation of the pond.


The palaeoecological potential of phytoliths from lake sediments across Amazonia

Heather Plumpton1 @heatherplumpton,,Frank Mayle1

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

Phytolith analysis is traditionally an archaeobotanical tool, used by archaeologists studying material from excavations and/or soil pits. Recently palaeoecologists have begun to recognise the significance of phytoliths as a tool for reconstructing ecological changes, as they can provide additional information to pollen studies, both taxonomically and spatially.

Pioneering work done by Dickau et al. (2013) demonstrated the potential for phytoliths from soil pits to differentiate tropical ecosystems alone. Lake sediment studies combining pollen and phytolith analyses from the same site should allow for more detailed ecological reconstructions. However, the principles set out by Dickau et al have not been tested in lake settings. Furthermore, no comprehensive study of phytolith source area in different lake scenarios has been undertaken in the Neotropics, so interpretation of phytolith lake records remains difficult.

In this poster, I will outline our plans to tackle this information gap by analysing the phytolith assemblage of lake surface samples from across Amazonia and comparing them to pollen assemblages. These samples will be taken from a variety of lake sizes, surrounded by different ecosystems, with differing proximity to ecotones. This will allow us to qualitatively assess how these factors influence the source area of phytoliths, relative to pollen, and provide a useful interpretation tool for palaeoecologists using these proxies from lake records.




Dickau, R. et al., 2013. Differentiation of neotropical ecosystems by modern soil phytolith assemblages and its implications for palaeoenvironmental and archaeological reconstructions. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 193, pp.15–37.


Human-animal interactions in the Near East and northern Africa: the MICROARCHEODUNG project


Marta Portillo1,Wendy Matthews1

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


Livestock dung is commonly found in many human settlements, especially after the domestication of herds. Dung is a key interdisciplinary area of research as it provides valuable information on a wide range of environmental and ecological issues and socio-economic and cultural aspects of human life. However, dung materials are regularly overlooked or missed using conventional excavation methods, despite their worldwide economic importance as suppliers of manure, fuel and building material. The Horizon 2020 MICROARCHEODUNG project aims to develop, standardize and integrate much-needed holistic interdisciplinary sampling protocols and analytical strategies for multi-proxy studies of livestock dung as an important archaeological material that is routinely overlooked or missed using conventional excavation procedures. It integrates new interdisciplinary analytical techniques in geoarchaeology, bioarchaeology and biochemistry to enable a robust identification and interpretation of dung remains in archaeology. This integrated methodology examines the context and content of livestock dung from mobile hunting-gathering to more sedentary farming Neolithic case-studies selected on a transect through the Near East, one of the key heartlands in which plants and animals that were later domesticated occur naturally, to the still little investigated northern Africa, a potentially critical area with implications for surrounding areas including the Mediterranean and the Sahara. These case-studies offer rich dung evidence for tracing human-animal interactions in different regions through time and key episodes of environmental and social change.


New insight into Neolithic life – analysis of pollen and non pollen palynomorphs from the prehistoric inundated lake dwelling site of Weyregg-II (Lake Attersee, Austria)

Marie-Claire Ries 1,2, Benjamin Dietre3, Werner Kofler 1, Andreas G. Heiss4, Michael Strasser5 , Jutta Leskovar 6, Henrik Pohl7, Helena Seidl da Fonseca8, Cyril Dworsky8, Kerstin Kowarik1, Timothy Taylor 2 & Jean Nicolas Haas


1 Institute of Botany, University of Innsbruck, Sternwartestrasse 15, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria

2 Department of Prehistoric and Historical Archaeology University of Vienna, Franz-Klein-Gasse 1, A-1190 Wien, Austria

3 Laboratory Chrono-environnement UMR CNRS 6249, University Burgundy Franche-Comté, 16 Route de Gray, F-25030 Besancon cedex, France

4 Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW), Austrian Archaeological Institute (ÖAI), Franz Klein-Gasse 1, A-1190 Wien, Austria

5 Institute of Geology, University of Innsbruck, Innrain 52, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria

6 Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum Linz, Abteilung Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Welser Straße 20, A-4060 Linz/Leonding

7 Kuratorium Pfahlbauten, Gemeindeamt Attersee am Attersee, Nußdorfer Straße 15, A-4846 Attersee am Attersee

8 Kuratorium Pfahlbauten, Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, Burgring 7, A-1010 Wien


This study is part of the international research project “Beyond Lake Villages” dealing with prehistoric lake villages of Austria, Germany and Switzerland in a collaboration between Austrian, Swiss and German archaeologists and palaeoecologists (DACH-FWF-I-1693; Zeitensprung). Prehistoric lacustrine settlements offer outstanding preservation conditions for organic matters and are therefore key sites for the understanding of socio-economical and ecological changes during the Neolithic and Bronze Age Periods (4300–800 BC) in the European pre-Alps. Our interdisciplinary research programme is dealing with palynological, palaeoethnobotanical, dendrochronological, archaeological, geological, and sedimentological as well as GIS-analyses. The objectives are to understand past agricultural sustainability, livestock husbandry systems, climatic alterations, fire history, as well as potential anthropogenic forest degradation, and subsequent secondary succession/reforestation processes. A special focus was put on the onsite analysis of lake stratigraphies recovered during the underwater-archaeological excavation of the Neolithic site of Weyregg-II in 2016. Today, the settlement remains are located in shallow water along the eastern shoreline of Lake Attersee (Upper Austria). The former village is culturally associated with the so-called Mondsee-group (4000-3000 BC). Systematic palynological investigations of the cultural layers rich in organic matter (including the quantification of Non-Pollen Palynomorphs (NPPs) such as spores from coprophilous fungi or algal cysts) and comparison with the content of preceding and overlying lake marl sediments of natural origin revealed detailed information on the local flora and vegetation changes under climatic and anthropogenic constraints. First results display strong emergence of cultural indicators such as Cerealia-type pollen reflecting crop cultivation around the former village and/or local crop processing within the village. Seasonal deposition of the archaeological layers is proposed given certain winter and early spring flowering plant taxa such as Hedera helix (ivy) and Allium ursinum-Type (ramson). High frequencies of spores from coprophilous fungi imply the important local presence of livestock. The occurrence of intestinal parasitic eggs of Ascaris (roundworm) gives direct evidence for disease, health, and quality of life of prehistoric people. Furthermore, patterns in sedimentation at the site represent different stages of depositional and erosive processes (traced by e.g. Glomus fungal spore finds). Finally, focus is given on the comparison with adjacent palaeoenvironmental records in order to track similarities and differences for short- and long-term transformation processes of prehistorical cultural landscapes.


The Silchester Environs Project


Krystyna Truscoe1

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

An aerial photograph and lidar survey was carried out around the Iron Age oppidum and Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum (modern Silchester) as part of the Silchester Iron Age Environs Project from September 2015 to September 2016. The survey covers 143 km² and is one of a range of techniques used to examine the hinterland of Iron Age Calleva. The survey aims to establish relationships between the Iron Age oppidum, the linear dykes, settlements and routeways in the surrounding landscape. Results from other periods, both earlier and later, were also recorded in order to put the results into their historical context and record landscape change.

Aerial photographs from the 1930s to the present day and Environment Agency lidar were systematically examined and all archaeological features were interpreted, mapped and recorded. The project created 671 new records for the National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) and amended 81 of the 267 records already covering the project area.

The survey results include newly recorded later prehistoric settlements enclosures and funerary monuments, both from cropmarks on aerial photographs and as extant earthworks identified on lidar within woodland. Four enclosures and a possible Bronze Age barrow were newly identified within Pamber Forest. Examination of recent photography found rare cropmarks on clay soils south of Pamber Forest and demonstrated that further information could be added to previously mapped sites on the Thames gravels. A multi-period settlement had been recorded to the north of Burghfield during an aerial survey in 1975, but photography from 1990 showed an extension to the field system around two complex enclosures and identified a relationship between elements of the settlement and a previously unrecognised section of the Roman road between Silchester and St Albans.


Break Out Sessions

Palynology in archaeological context: a quick guide (Macarena Cardenas)

This is a hands-on microscope session where delegates will learn about pollen identification for research in the archaeological context. Palynological studies allow revealing past vegetation and therefore provide key information about the environment and past human land use, such as agricultural practices and built architecture.

The session will include a quick introduction on sampling and pollen extraction, followed by a guide on pollen morphology and identifying useful taxa. Practical work in the microscopes will follow where beginners will be able to take the first steps into pollen analysis. Delegates with experience will be able to look at a variety of reference pollen as well as bring their own slides to get opinions and discuss their findings. There will be a range of reference pollen material to study, from common families across the tropics to cultivars.

After the session delegates will:

  • Know the basic uses of palynology in archaeological context
  • Know the basics of sediment processing
  • Know the basics of pollen identification and microscope settings for pollen analysis
  • Have a good understanding of pollen and know key taxa for the tropics


What exactly is a phytolith? (Martin Hodson)

What do we see when we look down a microscope at a phytolith? Firstly, we see the shape of the phytolith. That, for many archaeologists, is the most important feature, and may give information about the type of plant remains present in a sample. But look more closely and there may be other things to consider. Some phytoliths have dark occlusions, others appear to have some order at the cellular or molecular level, and some even appear to be birefringent. What is happening here?

There are two main types of phytolith: those that are formed in the cell lumen; and those that form in the cell walls. The lumen deposits may well incorporate the breakdown products of cellular membranes, proteins and even nucleic acids, but they do not form on an organised matrix. The cell wall phytoliths are deposited onto a carbohydrate matrix, which tends to give the structures some order. In the native state the cell wall phytoliths may consist of only 40% silica with the remainder made up of carbohydrates and protein. Just as phytoliths have very different shapes, so they are also not homogeneous in chemical or isotopic composition. Cell wall phytoliths are probably quite porous, and break down more easily in soil and sediments.

All of the above has quite serious implications for the use of phytoliths in archaeological research, and particularly for taphonomy. I will discuss some of these.

During this session, there will be several microscope slides available from different origin. Among these, there will be slides from modern plant and dung reference materials, experimental plant-processing and ethnographic contexts.


Micromorphology break-out: The micro-contextual analysis of ash, dung, and plant remains in thin-section (Rowena Banerjea)

This session will examine dung, ash, and plants remains in micromorphology thin-sections from a range of geographical locations, chronological periods, and experimental sites. The session will examine these materials in their depositional context to understand the pathways of deposition into the archaeological record and preservation factors.


Non-pollen palynomorph session (Lionello Morandi)

During our session, there will be several microscope slides available 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).