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Encyclopedia > Archaeobotany

Paleoethnobotany, also known as archaeobotany in European (particularly British) academic circles, is the Excavation is just one stage of archaeological research. Archaeology or archæology or sometimes in American English archeology (from the Greek words αρχαίος = ancient and λόγος = word/speech) is the study of human cultures through the recovery, documentation and... archaeological sub-field that studies Divisions Green algae land plants (embryophytes) non-vascular embryophytes Hepatophyta - liverworts Anthocerophyta - hornworts Bryophyta - mosses vascular plants (tracheophytes) seedless vascular plants Lycopodiophyta - clubmosses Equisetophyta - horsetails Pteridophyta - true ferns Psilotophyta - whisk ferns Ophioglossophyta - adderstongue ferns seed plants (spermatophytes) †Pteridospermatophyta - seed ferns Pinophyta - conifers Cycadophyta - cycads Ginkgophyta - ginkgo Gnetophyta - gnetae Magnoliophyta... plant remains from archaeological sites. The major research themes are recovery and identification of plant remains, the use of wild plants, the The term origins of agriculture is used principally by archaeologists to describe the processes involved in the transition from subsistence strategies based on the collection of wild plant and animal resources to strategies based on the cultivation of domestic plants and the keeping of domestic animals. This transition -- the Neolithic... origins of agriculture and Domesticated animals, plants, and other organisms are those whose collective behavior, life cycle, or physiology has been altered as a result of their breeding and living conditions being under human control for multiple generations. Humans have brought these populations under their care for a wide range of reasons: for help... domestication, and the Bumblebees and the flowers they pollinate co-evolve so that the flower is dependent on the bee and the bee is dependent on the flower for survival In Biology, Co-evolution is the mutual evolutionary influence between two species that become dependent on each other. Each party in a co... co-evolution of human-plant interactions.

Paleoethnobotanists use a variety of methods to identify and recover plant remains. One method is to sieve excavated material in a water bath in order to allow the organic material to float to the surface. This method is known as flotation. The matrix (the soil from a suspected In archaeology, the term feature is generally used to refer to any nonportable remnant of human activity, such as a hearth, road, or house remains, later found or recovered by some archaeological endeavor. Prehistoric features may include hearths, some types of grinding slabs, structural remnants, burials (human and otherwise), and... archaeological feature) is slowly added to agitated water. The soil, sand, and other heavy material, known as heavy fraction, will sink to the bottom. The less dense organic material such as charred seeds, wood and bone will tend to float to the surface. The material that floats to the top, called light fraction, is gathered with a sieve. The organic light fraction is then available for examination. Samples of the heavy fraction are also gathered for later anaylsis.

Another method used by paleoethnobotanists is the reconstitution and analysis of human Coprolites are fossilized feces, or animal dung. They form an important class of objects studied in the field of paleontology. The name is derived from the Greek words kopros meaning dung and lithos meaning stone. Coprolites are also trace fossils and vary in size from the small fecal pellets of... coprolites.

A related field is Palynology is the science that studies contemporary and fossil palynomorphs, including pollen, spores, dinoflagellate cysts, acritarchs, chitinozoans and scolecodonts, together with particulate organic matter (POM) and kerogen found in sedimentary rocks and sediments. The term palynology was introduced by Hyde and Williams in 1944, following correspondence with the Swedish geologist... palynology — the study of SEM image of pollen grains from a variety of common plants: sunflower (Helianthus annuus), morning glory (Ipomea purpurea),hollyhock (Sildalcea malviflora), lily (Lilium auratum), primrose(Oenothera fruticosa), and castor bean (Ricinus communis). Pollen is a fine to coarse powder consisting of microgametophytes (pollen grains), which carry the male gametes of... pollens. This has been used by many scientific disciplines. For paleoethnobotanists, it is a search for clues to early human environments and diet.

Another discipline used by paleoethnobotanists is Pinus taeda Cross section showing annual rings Cheraw, South Carolina Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating is the method of scientific dating based on the analysis of tree ring patterns. This technique was invented and developed during the 20th century originally by A.E. Douglass, the founder of the Laboratory of... dendrochronology.


The work done in paleoethnobotany can be divided into Field work is a general descriptive term for the collection of raw data in the social sciences and life sciences, such as archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, linguistics, and sociology. Field work, which is conducted in situ, can be contrasted with laboratory research which is conducted in a quasi-controlled environment. Field... field work, collections management, systematic description of species, and theories into the origins of human and plant interaction.

A paleoethnobotanist may find discrete concentrations of burned or dried remnants of seeds in an area of discolored soil (a possible In common historic and modern usage, a hearth is a brick- or stone-lined fireplace or oven used for cooking and/or heating. Because of its nature, in historic times the hearth was considered an integral part of a home, often its central or most important feature. This concept has... hearth feature). If later analyses indicate that the remnants were of only mature wild seeds of a type of plant that grows locally, it could be inferred that the site was only visited seasonally. Such an inference could be supported by a lack of other features that would suggest that no permanent shelters were built at the site.

Alternatively, a paleoethnobotanist may find that a fire pit feature contains concentrated remnants of a wide variety of edible wild plants that mature throughout the year. An archaeologist may find features at the site that indicate some sort of semi-permanent dwellings (such as post holes and A midden, or kitchen midden, is a dump for domestic waste. The word is of Scandinavian via Middle English derivation but is used by archaeologists worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life. They may be convenient, single-use tips created... middens). The middens may have concentrations of animal remains, identified by a Zooarchaeology is the study of animal remains from archaeological sites. The remains primarily consist of the hard parts of the body such as bones, teeth and shells. Such remains represent the food refuse of ancient populations as well as the use of animals transportation, decoration, or pets. Zooarchaeology helps complete... zooarchaeologist as those of wild game, with a variety of species-specific maturity levels. In that case, a more permanent settlement may be inferred, perhaps to the level of a village. Such an analysis of the archaeological features could suggest a society of In anthropology, the hunter-gatherer way of life is that led by certain societies of the Neolithic Era based on the exploitation of wild plants and animals. Consequently, hunter-gatherers are relatively mobile, and groups of hunter-gatherers have fluid boundaries and composition. Typically, men hunt and women gather and... hunter-gatherers who inhabited the site on a more-or-less year-round basis.

A paleoethnobotanist may also find concentrated remains of plants that typically are only grown through active Tillage (American English), or cultivation (UK) is the agricultural preparation of the soil to receive seeds. Primary tillage loosens the soil and mixes in fertilizer and/or plant material, resulting in soil with a rough texture. Secondary tillage produces finer soil and sometimes shapes the rows. It can be done... cultivation (such as corn, beans, and squash). At the same site, an archaeologist might identify features such as stone walls surrounding enclosures arrayed in a pattern, and deep, layered middens with concentrations of domesticated animal remains such as goats or pigs. An analysis of the site, set within the context of the archaeological features and animal and plant remains, would suggest a settled Farming, ploughing rice paddy, in Indonesia Agriculture is the process of producing food, feed, fiber and other desired products by cultivation of certain plants and the raising of domesticated animals ( livestock). Agriculture is also known as farming. More people in the world are involved in agriculture as their primary economic... agrarian community.

Further reading

  • Christine A. Hastorf (Editor), Virginia S. Popper (Editor), Current Paleoethnobotany : Analytical Methods and Cultural Interpretations of Archaeological Plant Remains (Prehistoric Archeology and Ecology series), University of Chicago Press (January 15, 1989), ISBN 0226318931.
  • Kristen J. Gremillion, People, Plants, and Landscapes: Studies in Paleoethnobotany, University of Alabama Press (February 1, 1997), ISBN 081730827X.
  • Pearsall, Deborah M, Paleoethnobotany: A Handbook of Procedures, Second Edition, Academic Press, San Diego (2000), ISBN 0125480423.

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