IMAA 2023 Abstracts

Oral Presentations



As the levels rise: challenges and opportunities for furthering conservation and archaeological agendas through a managed coastal retreat scheme at Benacre, Suffolk

Catherine Barnett1, Ryan Oakley2, Matthew Town2, Rachel Legge2

1 Stantec Uk & University of Reading

2 Stantec UK

As we face the inevitability of year on year sea level rise, those tasked with managing the effects on UK coasts, rivers and managed land face an unenviable task. Decisions are being made which will have profound consequences for landscape and life. Benacre managed retreat scheme is a bold step by the Internal Drainage Board to remove failing coastal defences and to flood a large swathe of the East Suffolk coastline, including pasture and valleys while moving and replacing vital infrastructure, notably fresh water supplies to the area. The project is in active detailed design, with ecological and archaeological considerations at the heart. Early surveys (geoarchaeological, geophysical, geomorphological and ecological) are being employed. I will explore what the opportunities, challenges and losses are likely to be for habitat and environmental archaeology agendas and consider the relationships and knowledge exchange we might be able to bring to this significant wetland wilding scheme.


The history of yew woodland within coastal wetlands; implications for future conservation and management of the species

Rob Batchelor1

1 Quest, University of Reading

Palaeoecological studies from coastal wetlands across Southern England and other parts of northwest Europe, have demonstrated that yew populations expanded onto peat surfaces to form mixed fen carr woodland dominated by alder, during the middle Holocene (ca. 5000-4000 cal BP). This community has no known modern analogue across the British Isles, and clearly indicates that the distribution of yew was far more widespread in the past. Today, yew (Taxus baccata L.) populations are relatively rare across its natural geographical range, and more significantly, are declining with a lack of natural regeneration. Palaeoecological research therefore provides important insights into the former distribution and pressures on yew populations, which is relevant to current concerns over declining levels and attempts to improve conservation and management of the species. This paper will focus on the findings from ongoing palaeoenvironmental work within the Lower Thames Valley, summarising our current understanding of the former distribution of yew, and the mechanisms behind its colonisation and decline from this coastal wetland system.


‘Rewilding’ Later Prehistory: Finding a niche for Environmental Archaeology in the Anthropocene

Tina Roushannafas1, Anwen Cooper1

1 Oxford Archaeology

Ecologists are increasingly looking to the past to frame our responses to the environmental crises of the present and future: whether seeking to define origins and causes of the ‘Anthropocene’, or to inform and inspire nature recovery in the context of rewilding initiatives. Archaeologists, and particularly environmental specialists, need to actively engage with these conversations or risk archaeological narratives becoming distorted, co-opted or neglected.

‘’Rewilding’ Later Prehistory’ is one of a growing number of projects seeking to actively work with nature practitioners, motivated by the belief that studies of past human interactions with flora and fauna can make positive contributions to our relationships with nature in the present. By collating a wide range of plant and animal data from across case studies in prehistoric Britain, we will try to establish a holistic long-term account of human-wildlife entanglements in later prehistory. We hope to explore the many ways in which the wild/domesticated dichotomy is blurred at the interfaces and in-roads between human settlements and their landscape contexts, including the degree to which hedgerows are ‘tame’ and the ways in which weeds can be useful. Through working directly with project partners Knepp Estate, and a wider set of rewilding practitioners, we will aim to establish productive routes for co-working, to investigate what past ideas of wildlife were and how these might matter today, and to develop creative approaches for presenting past wildlife, and archaeology more broadly, in contemporary nature recovery settings. Already emerging from these collaborations are topics on which environmental archaeology can both contribute and learn from; including uncertainties regarding the historical role of taxa being introduced through rewilding initiatives, and insights into the ways in which different types of wildlife interactions, such as rootling by roaming pigs, promote certain flora.


Fumier deposits in medieval Cártama (Spain)?

Rowena Banerjea1, Monica Alonso- Eguiluz2, Luc Vrydaghs2, Devos, Y.2, Schenkel, A.3, Meurice, V. 3, Francisco Melero-García4, Lionello F. Morandi5, Jérôme Ros6, Guillermo García-Contreras Ruiz7, Aleks Pluskowski1

1 University of Reading, UK

2 MARI, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

3 Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium

4 Aratispi Patrimonio S. L., Spain

5 University of Pisa, Italy

6 UMR5554 ISEM, France

7 Universidad de Granada, Spain

Samples for soil micromorphology and phytolith analysis were collected in 2019 from excavations in Plaza de la Constitución, Cártama, Málaga, from medieval urban occupation relating to an area considered to be a landfill throughout the Andalusian period, located below the castle. The profile from which samples were collected, showed a refuse pit with a fill containing material culture from the early 13th century (Almohad period), which cut into occupation layers. The occupation may relate to a period of urban decline prior to the Islamic Conquest, which is a hypothesis that will be tested through further excavation.

Two block samples were collected for micromorphological analysis and five bulk samples for phytolith analysis. The upper micromorphology sample was collected from the refuse pit and the lower micromorphology sample was collected from occupation layers below. The combined analysis of soil micromorphology and phytolith morphometrics, and their examination under UV and Blue light has revealed the presence of dung, the deposition of fodder and bedding and the in situ burning of this material.

The term fumier is commonly used to refer to archaeological sediments that are composed of burnt animal dung and vegetal remains and interpreted as arising from pastoral activities. These sediments or sequences of sediments have been identified in rock shelter and cave sites in the Mediterranean region, dating from the Neolithic to Iron Age. They have not been conclusively identified outside of these contexts. In this paper, we highlight the similarities between our data from the urban occupation at Cártama, Málaga, with fumier deposits.


Exploring medieval agriculture and food production in mainland and island Spain: recent archaeobotanical contribution

Jerome Ros1, Nicolas Losilla2, Thierry Pastor1, Luca Mattei2, Guillermo García-Contreras Ruiz2 , Rowena Y. Banerjea3, Michelle Alexander4, Aleks Pluskowski3, Sophie Gilotte5, Elise Marlière6, Josep Torres Costa6

1 UMR5554 ISEM

2 Department of Medieval History and Historiographic Sciences and Techniques, University of Granada, Spain

3 Department of Archaeology, University of Reading, UK

4 BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK

5 UMR 5648 Ciham

6 Antiquarium

In recent decades, the development of archaeobotany in the western Mediterranean has made it possible to document the main plant resources exploited, the agricultural practices implemented, as well as major phenomena of circulation and integration of new plant resources within historical societies. During the Middle Ages, Iberia is for a great part under Muslim rule, and is the theater of what has been widely considered in the literature as a “green revolution”. This period also sees the expansion of the northern Christian kingdoms into the Peninsula, often found under the debated name of “Reconquista”, that ended in 1492 with the fall of Granada. These changes disrupted economic systems, demographic and environmental pressures which changed radically, entering a new scale. But what effect did they have on agriculture?

Regarding the reel expansion of medieval Arab-Berber agriculture in Iberia and the so-called “green revolution”, we hypothesize that it was in fact limited to A) the landed estates that depended on the urban aristocracy, and B) to the large areas of specialized production well known from the written sources. But how was agriculture practiced in the rural areas far from these productive regions: did they evolve as in Andalusia? Perpetuate ancient practices (Iberian, Roman)? Or undergo developments similar to those observed in neighboring Christian regions (Mediterranean France)? Regarding the areas that come under Christian rule, the weight of the Andalusian agricultural legacy is yet to be determined, although we hypothesize continuity in the staple productions and practices.

To document these questions, the main objectives of this paper are: 1) to reconstruct ancient agrosystems and agrobiodiversities using archaeobotanical data; 2) to assess how societies, depending on local environmental parameters, have developed their agrarian strategies, following the evolution of the cultural and socio-economic context; 3) to determine what role socio-economic dynamics have played in the large-scale diffusion of certain agricultural productions. The paper will present results of new studies carried out in a range of frontier medieval sites in Spain (Aragon, Catalonia, Extremadura, Guadalajara, Malaga, Ibiza), a large part of which is drawn from the research project “Landscapes of (Re)Conquest: Dynamics of Multicultural Frontiers in Medieval South Western Europe”, funded by AHRC. The results, based on studies of seeds remains issued from samples dated from the 10th to the 15th c., make it possible to draw up a list of the main agro-horticultural productions and their evolution in the face of changing socio-economic dynamics.


Food from the desert: provisional archaeobotanical results from Islamic farming settlements in the Wadi Draa, Morocco

Ruth Pelling1

1 Historic England/UCL

The early medieval peopling of the oases of the Moroccan Sahara is a neglected but significant component of the emergence of Saharan trading networks and Islamic states in North Africa (8th-10th centuries) and the great medieval empires of the Almoravids and Almohads (11th-13th centuries). Survey in the Wadi Draa, south east Morocco, by the OASCIV project (The Making of Oasis Civilisation in the Moroccan Sahara, University of Leicester, UCL and INTRAP, Morocco) has resulted in the identification of a well-preserved farming landscape with hundreds of settlements and extensive networks of irrigated cultivation plots. Excavation of a selection of settlement sites in the autumn of 2022 has included an intensive sampling programme for the recovery of archaeobotanical remains. Provisional results of the first significant archaeobotanical investigation of farming settlements in the Moroccan Sahara will be presented with consideration of archaeobotanical results from other medieval settlements and trading centres in Morocco.


The Pollen Atlas Project: reconstructing 1200 yr of climatic change through the creation of the first palynological atlas of Nicaragua

Torreggiani, Irene1, Cabrera Sáenz, Lina2, Harvey, William J.1,3

1 School of Archaeology, University of Oxford

2Department of Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology

3 Oxford Systematic Reviews LLP

The Pollen Atlas Project (PAP) was founded in 2018 with the goal of creating the first comparative palynological atlas for the Dry Tropical Forest (DTF) of Central-Western Nicaragua. One of the many uses of this atlas is to aid in the identification of fossil pollen from lacustrine sediment records (e.g. the 1,200 year extracted from El Tigre-Asososca lake, León). The PAP aims to understand the effects of climate change and anthropogenic activity on other DTF by combining botanical surveys, fresh pollen collections, pollen traps and paleoenvironmental reconstruction. The pollen atlas is freely available on the open-source platform the Global Pollen Project ( and provides information on local uses, ecology, taxonomy and pollen morphology for 202 species. This presentation will explore the interdisciplinary approach that led to the creation of the PAP, alongside practical applications and new discoveries. Specific attention will be given to the pollen taxa identified in the paleoecological record of El Tigre-Asososca lake providing new insights into paleoclimatic changes and prehispanic anthropic activity in Central-Western Nicaragua.


Communicating phytolith data transparently and reproducibility using the FAIR data principles

Emma Karoune1, Carla Lancelotti2, Javier Ruiz-Pérez3, Juan José García-Granero4, Celine Kerfant5, Marco Madella2

1 Historic England & The Alan Turing Institute

2 Universitat Pompeu Fabra and ICREA

3 Texas A&M University

4 Spanish National Research Council

5 Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Our project ‘Increasing the FAIRness of phytolith data’, funded by EOSC-Life, is striving to set the basis for implementing the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) data principles within the phytolith research community. The phytolith community has been making efforts to standardise data through the development of a common nomenclature and other guidelines. However, the routine adoption of these standards has not been straightforward. Data sharing is minimal and data is often exclusively within paywalled published articles rather than in open repositories.

An assessment of open science practices in phytolith research (Karoune 2020) found that only a small percentage of research provided reusable data. These findings initiated the FAIR Phytoliths Project to take the first steps along the FAIRification journey.

The FAIR Phytoliths Project has engaged with our community to find shared views on opening up research. We have also conducted an assessment of publications containing primary phytolith data and associated methods to fully investigate the key variables needed to improve data sharing in line with the FAIR principles.

This presentation will share the results of this work and how we can move towards community-led FAIR guidelines that help to share data more sustainably and more transparently to enable better communication of research. We will discuss what this means for future phytolith research and the wider learnings that can be taken from this project for the archaeological community. We hope this work will initiate more sustainable data sharing practices in the future for phytolith research and related disciplines.


Sustainable plant management and use: examples from early agricultural and urban communities in the Zagros and Mesopotamia

Wendy Matthews1

1 Department of Archaeology, University of Reading, UK

This paper examines how the lens of sustainability can provide new insights into plant management and use. The case-studies represent two major transformations in human-plant relationships: the development of early sedentary agricultural communities in the Zagros and the agricultural management revolution that underpinned early urbanism in Mesopotamia. The aim is to highlight how integrated archaeobotanical approaches that include high-resolution micro-contextual analyses of plant remains in thin-section can contribute to our understanding of ecological, technological and social transformation. The examples selected focus on: biodiversity of diet, sustainability of energy sources and food production, processing and cooking technologies.


Fire and dung: sustainable use of plants in a Neolithic pastoral campsite at Pınarbaşı, Central Anatolia

García-Suárez, Aroa1,2; Portillo, Marta1; Baird, Douglas3

1 Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Milà i Fontanals Institute (IMF)

2 University of Reading, Department of Archaeology

3 University of Liverpool, Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology

Pastoralism is one of the most sustainable and resilient livelihood systems in the world, contributing to food security and biodiversity. Many Neolithic communities in southwest Asia maintained economic dependence on domestic caprine herds over several centuries. However, pastoralism is a demanding system, requiring knowledge to protect and feed viable herds in seasonally-variable landscapes.

This paper explores herding practices at the rockshelter of Pınarbaşı, Türkiye (6500-6000 cal BC). We examine evidence from geoarchaeological and archaeobotanical datasets to expand our knowledge of the management of domestic sheep herds, their food resources, and their products. Microscopic examinations of occupation sequences and their components through micromorphology characterise archaeological sediments and contribute to the identification of site formation processes and karstic syn/post-depositional processes affecting deposits in this rockshelter, assessing the preservation of plant resources. Phytolith analyses identify the different plant types (taxa, anatomical parts, seasons) and their various preservation histories (ingested, decayed, burnt) for an understanding of the selection and use of dietary and other plant components. Spherulite analyses detect the presence of herbivore faecal matter and are used to evaluate its potential alteration through fire.

The combination of these qualitative and quantitative datasets enables assessment of the scale of herding and plant use at this site, the mobility and grazing grounds of livestock, and the relative importance of pastoralism in early sedentary communities.


Towards a better understanding of the resilience of pre-Hispanic traditional agriculture to climate change in the Peruvian Andes

Josie Handley1, Nicholas Branch1, Alex Herrera2, Carlos Farfan3, Frank Meddens1, Jose Iriarte4

1 University of Reading

2 Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia

3 Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal, Lima, Peru

4 University of Exeter

Large scale agricultural activity in the Peruvian Andes is well documented, with many Inca and pre-Inca agricultural structures still visible within the landscape today. However, the exact nature of these agricultural activities and their resilience to past climate change is still poorly understood. We will therefore present a new body of research that goes some way towards addressing outstanding research questions such as: What was the nature of cultivation in relation to terrace agriculture? Were there practices of multicropping and changes in crop section? Was fire used as an agricultural management tool? Is there a relationship between changes in agricultural practices and periods of wider socio-economic change and/or climate variability? By analysing palaeobotanical records from sites within a key agricultural belt of the Peruvian Andes (3000-4000m a.s.l.) we can gain valuable insight into human-environment interactions and subsequent changes in agricultural regimes within an important lifezone in the Andes. The nature of agricultural activity surrounding three wetland sites (Huarca, Cordillera Blanca; Antaycocha, Chillón Valley; Ayapampa, Chicha-Soras Valley), has been some-what characterised by the creation of new pollen, non-pollen palynomorph, and phytoliths records in combination with the analysis of published palaeoclimate and archaeological records. The results of which reveal an apparent stability in agricultural practices during the Late Holocene, despite being a period of large-scale climatic changes, such as during the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Little Ice Age, and social reorganisations. Societies were able to endure these changes though adapting agricultural practices, including the construction of reservoirs and agricultural terraces, to ensure the survival of pre-Hispanic populations. Further to this, we will also discuss the role of maize in terraced agriculture and the advantages and challenges of current palaeobotanical methods in identifying cultivars whilst suggesting some future directions in the study of past agricultural activity in the Peruvian Andes.


The Obishir‑5: A rock shelter site bearing traces of human‑related activities connected with pastoralism in Kyrgyzstan

Greta Brancaleoni1*, Svetlana Shnaider2, Aida Abdykanova3, Maciej T. Krajcarz4

1 Institute of Geological Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences, 51/55 Twarda St, Warsaw 00‐818, Poland (

2 Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, 71 Al-Farabi Avenue, Almaty 050040, Kazakhstan

3 American University of Central Asia, 7/6 Aaly Tokombaev St, Bishkek 720060, Kyrgyzstan

4 Institute of Geological Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences, 51/55 Twarda St, Warsaw 00‐818, Poland

At the foothills of the Alay mountain range, in the southern margin of the Fergana Valley (Kyrgyzstan), the Obishir‑5 is an archaeological site of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. The site yields a palimpsest consisting of differing cultural assemblages, that are Paleolithic, Obishirian, Bronze age and Middle Ages. In particular, the Obishirian is an archaeological cultural unit that coincides with the increasing number of archaeological sites in the Fergana Valley and the surrounding territories during the Early Holocene. The Obishir‑5 holds one of the earliest evidence for the use of livestock in the mountains of interior Central Asia, shedding light into the development and dispersal of agro-pastoralism, also known as Neolithization process, in a region where little is known about when or how this process first impacted.

Geoarchaeological investigations at the Obishir‑5 focused on the reconstruction of geogenic and anthropogenic formation processes and post-depositional disturbances responsible for the alteration of the sedimentary and archaeological record. We conducted this study especially applying micromorphological methods, supported by sedimentological and geochemical methods. The talus sequence accumulated from the Pleistocene/Holocene transition to present time, with a gap in the sedimentation during the Middle Holocene. The geogenic material is an unconsolidated, poorly sorted mixture of angular rock fragments accumulated by rockfall and fine-grained materials. Aeolian processes, illuviation, and in situ physical weathering were responsible for the accumulation of the fine material. Moreover, the archaeological material such as bones, charcoals, dung material was mixed with geogenic material and showed traces of heat-induced modifications. The archaeological material was deposited by activities such as herding and firing, and eventually subjected to post-depositional disturbance, such as total bioturbation, trampling, diagenesis, organic matter degradation and weak soil formation.

The study was supported by the National Science Center of Poland, grant number 2018/29/B/ST10/00906, excavations at the Obishir-5 site were supported by project RSF #19/78/10053


Up-dating floor deposits: An interdisciplinary study of floor deposits in the medieval site of DIVA (Antwerp, Belgium).

Sarah Lo Russo1, 2, Mónica Alonso-Eguiluz1, Yannick Devos1, Luc Vrydaghs1, Kristin Ismail-Meyer2, Schenkel, A.4., Meurice, V. 4, Daan Celis3, Karin Nys1

1 Multidisciplinary Archaeological Research Institute-Vrije Universiteit Brussels

2 IPAS – Integrative Prehistoric Archaeological Science at University of Basel (CH)

3 Urban Archaeology Department, City of Antwerp

4 Laboratory of Image Synthesis and Analysis – Université Libre de Bruxelles

5 Département de Mathématique et European Center for Advanced Research in Economics and Statistics – Université Libre de Bruxelles

Recent excavations on the site of DIVA (Antwerp, Belgium) have uncovered a complex stratigraphy, including Dark Earth and finely laminated layers dating from the end of the Gallo-Roman empire and the 11th century – a period when the city begins to emerge. As written information for this period is scarce and given the difficulty of understanding such complex stratigraphies based only on field data, a multi proxy approach – including the integration of micromorphology and botanical analyses in thin sections – is key to reconstruct the history of the early city of Antwerp. Micromorphological data are recorded in a newly developed database GEOARCHrec fostering standardized data collection and statistical analysis. The waterlogged preservation of some layers allows to include information about organic materials and plant remains complementing the study of phytoliths in thin sections. Phytolith analyses include morphometric analyses of articulated systems.

Based on all these recordings, this contribution intends to demonstrate how different types of occupation surfaces and occupation deposits formed on these surfaces can be recognized and also to show the potential to reconstruct site formation, human activities and use of space.


Phytoliths in Archaeobotany. Recent advances: Auto-fluorescent phytoliths, a new proxy for fire.

Vrydaghs1, M.J. Hodson2, Y. Devos1

1 Multidisciplinary Archaeological Research Institute (MARI), Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium

2 Department of Biological and Medical Sciences, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Phytoliths are now routinely used in archaeological research. Usually, it is the morphological features of the phytoliths, their shapes and sizes, which are the main focus of interest. However, there are increasing numbers of studies that are using the chemical and isotopic features of phytoliths as proxies to give information about the environmental conditions at a particular site. One question that not infrequently arises in archaeological contexts is whether fire or heat affected the phytoliths, and hence the plant material from which they originated. Addressing this issue has worldwide relevance and encompasses activities ranging from everyday life (domestic activities) up to landscape management (such as slash and burn in relation to agricultural activities).

Different methods have been applied to identify whether phytoliths have been heated. As not all phytoliths seem to be affected in the same way, these are obviously limited. None provide satisfactory results for systematic discrimination between burned and unburned phytoliths.

Unheated phytoliths are believed to show no auto-fluorescence. We surveyed phytoliths in soil thin sections taken from a variety of modern and archaeological contexts in Northern Europe of different time periods. Our observations revealed that fluorescent phytoliths are typically associated with hearths and other combustion features, suggesting that phytoliths become auto-fluorescent upon heating.

This observation led us to further investigate phytolith auto-fluorescence. Can all types of phytolith become fluorescent? Under which conditions do they become fluorescent? What about archaeological applications? What about potential traps? The present contribution will cover these aspects in a two stage round table. The first part will consist of a 30 minute general presentation aimed at introducing all these aspects. The second part will be a general discussion in the format of a round table.


Devos, Y., Hodson, M. & Vrydaghs, L. 2021. Autofluorescent phytoliths: a new method for detecting heating and fire. Integrated Microscopy Approaches in Archaebotany 2: Proceedings of the 2018 and 2019 Workshops, University of Reading, UK. Banerjea, R., Portillo, M., Barnett, C. and Flintoft, P. (eds), Environmental Archaeology 26, 4; 388-405


Open Phytoliths Community – run by the International Committee on Open Phytolith Science

Emma Karoune (Chair of committee, The Alan Turing Institute, UK)

Doris Barboni (French Institute Pondicherry, France)

Jennifer Bates (Seoul National University, South Korea)

Abraham Dabengwa (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)

Zach Dunseth (Brown University, USA)

Juan José García-Granero (Spanish National Research Council, Spain)

Celine Kerfant (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain)

Carla Lancelotti (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain)

Marco Madella (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain)

Maria Gabriela Musaubach (National University of Jujuy and Institute of Andean Ecoregions (CONICET-UNJu), Argentina)

Javier Ruiz-Pérez (Texas A&M University, USA)

Yong Ge (University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing)

The International Committee on Open Phytolith Science (ICOPS) has been created within the International Phytolith Society to work on increasing the knowledge of and implementation of open science practices in phytolith research. In doing this we have formed the Open Phytoliths Community.

Open Science is an approach that aims to transform research by making it more reproducible, transparent, reusable, collaborative, accountable and accessible to society. Open Science encompasses many different practices such as open data, open methods, open source software, open hardware, open access publishing, citizen science, open educational resources and equity, diversity and inclusion.

This committee, and our open phytoliths community initiative, therefore embraces these practices in its own work and strives to make everything that it does open and transparent to the phytolith community. We aim to engage with the phytolith community regularly from the very start and we encourage phytolith researchers to get involved in the training, seminars, discussions and working initiatives that we will be doing.

We currently have several active projects:

FAIR Phytolith project – working to improve data sharing by investigating existing phytolith data and drawing up community-led guidelines for the implementation of the FAIR principles for existing and future phytolith data. You can watch an introductory talk about this project here.

Phytolith ontology – working to bring together the standard nomenclatures with other lan based nomenclatures to produce a comprehensive ontology that compares existing synonyms for different morphotypes.

Open Research Training – we are currently running training workshops including open access, using repositories, GitHub, standard vocabularies and ontologies and FAIR data.

Open Publishing Guide – our guide is published on Zenodo  (

See our website for more details:


First insights into the phytolith analysis of soil thin sections from the tropics. The case of Kuk, Papua New Guinea. 

Vrydaghs, L.1, Devos, Y.1, Alonso-Eguiluz1, M. and Denham, T.2

1 Multidisciplinary Archaeological Research Institute-Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium.

2 School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.


Phytolith analysis on soil thin sections is a technique that inventories the distribution patterns of the phytoliths within soils and sediments, along with the phytolith morphotypes within each of the distribution patterns (Vrydaghs and Devos 2018). Contrary to the classical phytolith studies performed on bulk samples, thin sections preserve the relative distribution of the phytoliths and their relation to other components. This allows to document their taphonomical histories, and to securely identify phytoliths that share a common botanical origin (Vrydaghs et al. 2016).

This methodological approach has been systematically applied on preventive archaeological excavations conducted within the Brussels Capital Region (Belgium). It did not only contribute significantly to the deciphering of archaeological units with complex formation processes, but also to reconstruct the (pre-)urban land use (Devos et al. 2017).

Despite promising results, the application of this technique to other regions of the world and chronological periods remains limited (see for instance Shilitto and Ryan, 2013; Kovacs et al., 2020). Especially the tropics remain poorly studied. The aim of present contribution is to deliver an initial phytolith exploration of tropical soil thin sections. The site of Kuk Swamp in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (Goldson et al. 2017; Denham 2018) appears to be especially well suited for such exploratory research because:

High relevance of Kuk for early plant domestication and the emergence of agriculture in the tropics;

Extensive complementary analyses in geochemistry and geoarchaeology;

Extensive phytolith data (bulk analysis) and associated pollen and microcharcoal data.


Denham, T.P. 2018. Tracing Early Agriculture in the Highlands of New Guinea: Plot, Mound and Ditch. Oxford: Routledge. (hardback and eBook editions 2018, paperback edition 2020)

Devos, Y., Nicosia, C., Vrydaghs, L., Speleers, L., Van der Valk, J., Marinova, E., Claes, B., Albert, R. M., Esteban, I., Ball, T., Court-Picon, M., & Degraeve, A. 2017. An integrated study of Dark Earth from the alluvial valley of the Senne river (Brussels, Belgium). Quaternary international, 460: 175-197. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2016.06.025.

Golson, J., T.P. Denham, P.J. Hughes, P. Swadling and J. Muke (eds.) 2017. Ten Thousand Years of Cultivation at Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Terra Australis 46. Canberra: ANU E Press (paperback and online)

Kovacs, G., Petö, A., and Vicze, M., 2020. Development of a Middle Bronze Age (1900-1500 cal BC) house at the site of Szazhalombatta-Földvar, Hungary: detecting choice of materials by the means of archaeological thin section soil micromorphology and phytolith analysis. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 12.

Shillito, L.M., and Ryan, Ph. 2013. Surfaces and streets: phytoliths, micromorphology and changing use of space at Neolithic Catalhoyuk (Turkey). Antiquity 87(337):684-700.

Vrydaghs, L & Devos, Y. 2018. Phytolith analysis of soil and ceramic thin sections. In Smith, Cl. (ed), Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology.

Vrydaghs, L., Ball, T., & Devos, Y. 2016. Beyond redundancy and multiplicity. Integrating phytolith analysis and micromorphology to the study of Brussels Dark Earth. Journal of archaeological science, 68: 79-88. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2015.09.004.


Different methods, Different views: a phytolith case study from Cártama, Málaga, Spain

Banerjea, R.1, Vrydaghs, L.2, Alonso-Eguiluz, M. 2, Devos, Y. 2, Schenkel, A.3, Meurice, V. 3, Melero-García, F.4, García-Contreras Ruiz, G.5 & Pluskowksi, A.1

1 University of Reading, UK

2 MARI, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

3 Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium

4 Aratispi Patrimonio S. L., Spain

5 Universidad de Granada, Spain

Samples for soil micromorphology and phytolith analysis were collected in 2019 from excavations in Plaza de la Constitución, Cártama, Málaga, from medieval urban occupation relating to an area considered to be a landfill throughout the Andalusian period, located below the castle. Two block samples were collected for micromorphological analysis and five bulk samples for phytolith analysis. The lower micromorphology sample, from which unit c is the subject of this study, was collected from occupation layers below a rubbish pit with a fill containing material culture from the early 13th century (Almohad period). The occupation may relate to a period of urban decline prior to the Islamic Conquest, which is a hypothesis that will be tested through further excavation. Phytolith bulk samples 2 and 3 relate also to this unit c.

The thin section shows that unit c is situated in between two layers of charred material. The combination of the study of bulk samples and thin sections provides us with different views on the studied unit:

The thin section permits to observe the organisation of the phytoliths that gets lost in the extracted material despite the observation of some larger silica skeletons. The relation of the phytoliths with other components can be detailed, helping to discern intrusive material and depositional pathways.

The study of the extracted material permits more extensive documentation of the different morphotypes that cannot always be easily recognised in thin section.

Not many conclusive signs of burning were observed in thin section. Observations with fluorescent excitation were fruitless as the resin itself was fluorescing. This was not the case for the extracted material. Here, the omnipresence of fluorescent phytoliths confirms the omnipresence of burned material in unit c. Morphometrical analysis of large articulated Elongate dentate/dendritic systems observed in thin section as well as from extracted from the bulk permitted to carry out further analyses to investigate potential taxonomical attribution. Whereas each of the methods on its own showed important limitations, combining them enabled a fuller understanding of the origin of unit c.


Lost or Found? Microarchaeology at Rescue Excavations in Austria

Marie-Claire Ries1, Susanna Cereda1, Peter Trebsche1

1 Universität Innsbruck, Department of Archaeologies, Microarchaeological Laboratory

The project “Lost or Found?” aims to create and analyse the first systematic survey of microarchaeological finds from developer-funded rescue excavations all over Austria, which up to now have been almost completely neglected. Sediment samples from more than 30 prehistoric settlement sites from the Neolithic to the Iron Age in all regions of Austria will be collected to provide relevant data. The activities are funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF, grant no. TAI-257). The traditional notion of the archaeological record consisting of “visible” finds is challenged. Instead, it shall be demonstrated, how much information can be gained by the tiny “invisible” finds (the microarchaeological record) which are easily overlooked during rescue excavation, because adequate sampling techniques aren´t applied. Study of a large variety of samples is carried out in the recently founded Microarchaeological Laboratory at Universität Innsbruck in order to address three main questions: (1) What finds are normally lost during excavation according to the methods of find retrieval? (2) How do macro-finds (discovered with the naked eye) and the invisible record (microarchaeological finds) relate in terms of quantity and quality? (3) What “invisible” activities took place at the excavated sites? Within the two-years pilot project close collaboration between the University, archaeology companies from the private sector and national heritage authorities is practised to profoundly change the practical application of microarchaeology in the vast field of Austria’s commercial archaeology.



Turn on the lights! Illuminating plant material using different light sources. Examples from the DIVA-site (Antwerp, Belgium).

Alonso-Eguiluz1, S. Lo Russo1,2, Ch. Pümpin2, L. Vrydaghs1, 3, Y. Devos1, Daan Celis4, K. Nys1

1Multidisciplinary Archaeological Research Institute (MARI), Vrije Universiteit Brussel

2IPAS – Integrative Prehistoric Archaeological Science at University of Basel

3Brussels Capital Region

4 Urban Archaeology Department, City of Antwerp, Belgium

Dark Earths, dark colored, humic and homogeneous layers, ubiquitous in urban contexts, are the result of different anthropogenic activities (domestic and/or economic). The site of DIVA (Antwerp, Belgium) constitutes a good example in this regard. Recent excavations uncovered between 1 and 2 meters thick Dark Earth, chronologically bracketed between the end of the Gallo-Roman empire and the 11th century.

In order to better understand the different activities that took part in the formation of the Dark Earth, micromorphological analyses have been conducted. These analyses were carried out by the description of the thin sections under different lights: PPL, XPL and auto-fluorescence (UV and Blue). Surprisingly, under blue and UV some preserved anatomical features within apparently amorphous decomposed organic matter appeared. These structures were invisible under PPL and XPL.

The aim of this poster is to emphasize the use of auto-fluorescence while describing thin sections, since it can provide important evidence that was invisible under PPL and XPL.


Food and Faeces: Microscopy of charred amorphous fragments from Sanganakallu, Late Neolithic India

Yu-Chun Kan1 and Anna M. H. den Hollander1

University College London

From the late prehistoric to the Early Historic period, South Asia has been at cultural crossroads, where multiple traditions of farming and cooking can be encountered. Being situated at the periphery of two distinct culinary styles – the grinding/bread technologies of the west and the boiling/sticky foods of the east (Fuller & Rowlands, 2011) – these sites form a key case study into how different cooking technological systems were accepted, transformed or rejected by local communities, a process that may have deeper social and ecological roots. There is a growing academic interest in daily sensorial practices such as eating and cooking, which have great potential to offer insights into social boundaries and cultural transformations.

In this poster, we will present some preliminary analysis on amorphous food lumps retrieved from the flotation samples from the Neolithic contexts of an important Deccan site in South Asia: Sanganakallu. Sanganakallu has returned a variety of pulses, millets, and wheat – all are expected to be potential components of ‘recipes’. In addition to amorphous food lumps, the site has returned a large number of charred dung fragments. Pressed and dry cow dung cakes are often used as fuel in central India, and charred fragments can end up in flotation samples – often being confused for amorphous ‘food’ lumps (Smith et al., 2019).

This research extends the ‘micro-archaeobotany’ approach (González Carretero et al., 2017) from charred food remains to charred dung, aiming to: 1) better understand the SEM microscopy of charred dung, both modern and archaeological, and 2) investigate different food and fuel preparation technologies in Prehistoric Deccan India to provide insight into both human and animal diets for the late Neolithic period. To aid in our identification of the charred dung fragments, we charred goat dung from the London Zoo for four hours at 300°C in the muffle furnace. This poster will present some of the preliminary results of this pilot study, in which we successfully managed to identify diagnostic plant tissues and matrix features in both the cooked food and dung materials under SEM.



Bates, J., Wilcox Black, K., & Morrison, K. D. (2022). Millet bread and pulse dough from early Iron Age South India: Charred food lumps as culinary indicators. Journal of Archaeological Science, 137, 105531.

Boivin, N., Korisettar R., & Fuller, D. (2005). Further Research on the Southern Neolithic and the Ashmound Tradition: The Sanganakallu-Kupgal Archaeological Research Project Interim Report. Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in History and Archaeology 2,1, 63-92.

Fuller, D. Q., & Rowlands, M. (2011). Ingestion and Food Technologies Maintaining Differences over the Long-term in West, South and East Asia. In T. C. Wilkinson, S. Sherratt, & J. Bennet (Eds.), Interweaving Worlds (pp. 37-60). Oxbow Books.

González Carretero, L., Wollstonecroft, M., & Fuller, D. Q. (2017). A methodological approach to the study of archaeological cereal meals: a case study at Çatalhöyük East (Turkey). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 26(4), 415-432.

Roberts, P., Boivin, N., Petraglia, M., Masser, P., Meece, S., Weisskopf, A., … & Fuller, D. Q. (2016). Local diversity in settlement, demography and subsistence across the southern Indian Neolithic-Iron Age transition: site growth and abandonment at Sanganakallu-Kupgal. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 8, 575-599.

Smith, A., Proctor, L., Hart, T. C., & Stein, G. J. (2019). The burning issue of dung in archaeobotanical samples: a case-study integrating macro-botanical remains, dung spherulites, and phytoliths to assess sample origin and fuel use at Tell  Zeidan, Syria. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 28, 229-246.