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Methodological development of phytolith analysis for studying non-dietary crop products in prehistoric agricultural societies


Plants have been of economic importance since the start of human evolution. Archaeobotanical studies of past agricultural societies have mainly focused on crop domestication and cultivation, both related to food production. However, particularly cereal crops supply not only food but also so-called secondary products (straw, chaff, etc.). Ethnographic studies indicate that these non-dietary resources must have been of fundamental importance in the past, supplying fuel, animal fodder and components for construction material, to cite but a few examples.

Proper identification and study of these resources in archaeological studies is crucial for a full understanding of past economies and social organization. However, current analyses focusing on plant macroremains tend to overlook secondary crop products mostly because of preservation biases of these more fragile remains. An excellent opportunity to ensure that secondary resources are no longer forgotten is given by the relatively new research area of phytolith studies. Phytoliths are microscopic, mineral plant particles that preserve under a wide range of environmental conditions, can be identified at different taxonomic levels and enable anatomical plant part identification.

The aim of the proposed research is to develop a new methodological framework based on phytolith analysis for the study of non-dietary products originating from Eurasian cereals. The first objective is to systematically develop the identification of Eurasian cereal crops and their different anatomical parts by the study of phytoliths from recent plant material. The second objective is to assess the level of confidence with which the developed identification methodology can be applied to archaeological samples from different contexts (archaeological pilot study). It is expected that the results will represent a substantial development in phytolith analyses and will provide a better understanding of European and Asian history and past economy.

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Calle serrano 117
28006 Madrid

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Comunidad de Madrid Comunidad de Madrid Madrid
Activity type
Research Organisations
Administrative Contact
Eusebio Jiménez Arroyo (Mr.)
EU contribution
No data