Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Final Activity Report Summary - IAR (Integrated Archaeobotanical Research)

The project had two major objectives:
(1) to establish an integrated interpretational framework for the archaeobotanical investigation of ancient economies, and
(2) to create a web-based research training package for the dissemination of expertise in a diverse range of archaeobotanical materials.

Archaeobotany is the study of plant remains from archaeological sites. Traditionally, charred or waterlogged seeds and fruits, recovered from archaeological sites, have been the primary source of evidence for the reconstruction of past diet, subsistence strategies and plant economy, but other relatively new or innovative types of plant material can also shed light on these research areas.

The purpose of the IAR project was to bring together specialists in a wide range of archaeobotanical materials: charred plant remains (including underground storage organs such as roots and tubers), wood charcoal, waterlogged plant remains, (including fragile leaf and stem fragments), silica phytoliths and starch, to develop complementary research and training strategies, building on each discipline's strengths. Each type of archaeobotanical material has its own preservation biases, and potential for contributing to an understanding of the ancient economy. Existing methodologies in each of archaeobotanical discipline were refined, through exchange of knowledge between the project particpants, who thus learnt from methods used in other disciplines, and also identified the role each specialism can play in an understanding of ancient economies.

For each archaeobotanical specialism, a reference collection of modern specimens and images was created for training and research purposes, and this will remain in Sheffield as a lasting legacy of the project. In addition, the project explored interpretive tools derived from present-day studies in ethnobotany and plant ecology, which together provide the modern basis for archaeobotanical interpretation. The team members applied this knowledge in the study of botanical assemblages from archaeological sites, which were chosen primarily for the diverse range of archaeobotanical materials recovered during excavation. This allowed the project team to develop and test integrative approaches to archaeobotanical analysis and interpretation. The main archaeological sites chosen were Tell Brak (Syria), Çatal Höyük (Turkey), Assiros (Greece) and Sipplingen (Germany), though material from other sites was also considered.

The integration of various lines of archaeobotanical evidence, and the application of interpretive methods derived from ethnobotany and plant ecology, have thus enabled the project to address issues of both crop production and plant use in the past. While in Sheffield, the fellows provided face-to-face training in practical laboratory skills to post-graduate students, and were involved in the supervision of post-graduate dissertations. This enabled each researcher to try out ideas and training methods for the dissemination of their specialism to students embarking on a research career.

Attendance of these classes by other project staff has also empowered them to deliver similar training on return to their home institution. Each fellow received training in archaeological field sampling, plant identification, surface-scanning electron microscopy, plant functional ecology, image analysis, data analysis and statistics. The training output of the IAR project is encapsulated in the web-based training package available on-line from the University of Sheffield website. Each archaeobotanical specialism is explained in terms of the history, sampling, recovery, identification, quantification, data analysis, interpretation and storage of the botanical material concerned. The individual components of the package can be accessed individually, or followed through in sequence for each type of material. There is also a section on the modern interpretive tools.

Reported by

University of Sheffield
Western Bank
S10 2TN Sheffield
United Kingdom
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