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Geoarchaeology and taphonomy of plant remains in early urban environments in the Ancient Near East

By Wendy Matthews


A number of recent articles emphasize the fundamental importance of taphonomy and formation processes to interpretation of plant remains assemblages, as well as the value of interdisciplinary approaches to studies of environmental change and ecological and social practices. This paper examines ways in which micromorphology can contribute to integrating geoarchaeology and archaeobotany in analysis of the taphonomy and context of plant remains and ecological and social practices. Micromorphology enables simultaneous in situ study of diverse plant materials and thereby traces of a range of depositional pathways and histories. In addition to charred plant remains, also often preserved in semi-arid environments are plant impressions, phytoliths and calcitic ashes. These diverse plant remains are often routinely separated and extracted from their depositional context or lost using other analytical techniques, thereby losing crucial evidence on taphonomy, formation processes and contextual associations, which are fundamental to all subsequent interpretations. Although micromorphological samples are small in comparison to bulk flotation samples of charred plant remains, their size is similar to phytolith and pollen samples. In this paper, key taphonomic issues are examined in the study of: fuel; animal dung, animal management and penning; building materials; and specific activities, including food storage and preparation and ritual, using selected case-studies from early urban settlements in the Ancient Near East. Microarchaeological residues and experimental archaeology are also briefly examined

Publisher: Elsevier
Year: 2010
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