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Method and Theory in Paleoethnobotany

Method and Theory in Paleoethnobotany

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    Method and Theory in Paleoethnobotany
    Book Description:

    Paleoethnobotany, the study of archaeological plant remains, is poised at the intersection of the study of the past and concerns of the present, including agricultural decision making, biodiversity, and global environmental change, and has much to offer to archaeology, anthropology, and the interdisciplinary study of human relationships with the natural world.Method and Theory in Paleoethnobotanydemonstrates those connections and highlights the increasing relevance of the study of past human-plant interactions for understanding the present and future.

    A diverse and highly regarded group of scholars reference a broad array of literature from around the world as they cover their areas of expertise in the practice and theory of paleoethnobotany-starch grain analysis, stable isotope analysis, ancient DNA, digital data management, and ecological and postprocessual theory.

    The only comprehensive edited volume focusing on method and theory to appear in the last twenty-five years,Method and Theory in Paleoethnobotanyaddresses the new areas of inquiry that have become central to contemporary archaeological debates, as well as the current state of theoretical, methodological, and empirical work in paleoethnobotany.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-316-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
    John M. Marston, Jade d’Alpoim Guedes and Christina Warinner
  6. 1 Paleoethnobotanical Method and Theory in the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 1-16)
    John M. Marston, Christina Warinner and Jade d’Alpoim Guedes

    The origins of the study of relationships between people and plants in the past began as early as the nineteenth century with the identification of desiccated plant remains recovered from rockshelters in the American Southwest (Ford 2003:xii; 2004:x; Pearsall 2000:1) and waterlogged remains from Swiss lake-dwelling sites (Hastorf 1999:55). This field of study, first termedethno-botany, today is termed eitherpaleoethnobotanyorarchaeobotany, with the two synonymous terms generally preferred in North America and Europe, respectively (figure 1.1). Paleoethnobotany expanded tremendously as a field in the second half of the twentieth century, as reflected in the growing number of publications...

  7. Part I: Formation Processes

    • 2 Formation Processes of the Macrobotanical Record
      (pp. 19-34)
      Daphne E. Gallagher

      The macrobotanical record consists of all plant remains that are large enough to be seen with the naked eye and that can usually be identified with a lowpower microscope (Ford 1979:301; Pearsall 2000:11). Macroremains can range in size from tobacco seeds (> 1 mm diameter) to a preserved dugout canoe several meters long. They can encompass every part of the plant including roots, stems, wood, fibers, sap, leaves, spines, flowers, fruits, nuts, seeds, and more. Consequently, the macrobotanical record has the potential to illuminate a wide range of human-plant interactions from management and environmental impact to cultural modification of plant...

    • 3 Formation and Taphonomic Processes Affecting Starch Granules
      (pp. 35-50)
      Amanda G. Henry

      Like pollen and phytoliths, starch granules have proven to be a valuable source of information about ancient plant use. Their semi-crystalline structure and insolubility in water, as well as the sheer numbers in which they are produced in plants (Pérez et al. 2009; Swinkles 1985), all help preserve them in the archaeological record. Their taxon-specific morphology and the manner in which they preserve signs of intentional processing are powerful markers of human dietary behavior. However, because of starch granules’ unique biological origins, they can be damaged or destroyed by certain biological, chemical, and human-induced factors. In order to fully interpret...

    • 4 Formation Processes of Pollen and Phytoliths
      (pp. 51-74)
      Deborah M. Pearsall

      Understanding formation processes of pollen and phytoliths—how these microfossils come to be deposited and preserved in archaeological sediments, artifact residues, and lake and swamp sediments—begins with understanding their biological properties: physical characteristics, production, modes of dispersal, and patterning in the plant kingdom. Although pollen and phytoliths have different natures, they are similar in that they are not transported purposefully into localities that become archaeological sites. Their presence in site sediments follows two pathways. The first is as a by-product of human selection of plants for food, medicine, construction, and other uses: for example, palm fruits are collected and...

  8. Part II: Recovery, Identification, and Data Management

    • 5 Sampling Strategies in Paleoethnobotanical Analysis
      (pp. 77-94)
      Jade d’Alpoim Guedes and Robert Spengler

      The archaeological record is by nature fragmentary. In addition, because of finite resources it is impossible for archaeologists to have access to the entirety of the archaeological record. Choosing when, how, and where to sample is thus a crucial aspect of any archaeological investigation, and it is important to consider the effects that different sampling strategies have on the types of questions one wishes to answer. These issues are present in every approach to archaeological data, and archaeobotany is no exception. As paleoethnobotanists, our target populations are the plant remains brought into archaeological sites and deposited in areas surrounding them;...

    • 6 Recovering Macrobotanical Remains: Current Methods and Techniques
      (pp. 95-114)
      Chantel E. White and China P. Shelton

      A wide variety of techniques are currently used by paleoethnobotanists to recover macrobotanical remains. The methods chosen by paleoethnobotanists are influenced by a multitude of factors, but one of the most important issues is the type(s) of botanical preservation found at an archaeological site. In the case of macrobotanical remains (i.e., seeds, wood, and other plant parts identifiable at low magnifications typically ranging from 5× to 30×), the most frequently preserved forms are charred, desiccated, and waterlogged remains (Pearsall 2000; Tolar et al.2010; van der Veen 2007a). The goal of all recovery methods is to successfully isolate plant remains from...

    • 7 Laboratory Analysis and Identification of Plant Macroremains
      (pp. 115-146)
      Gayle Fritz and Mark Nesbitt

      The laboratory handling and identification of archaeological plant remains is the crucial step between their recovery in the field (chapters 2—6, this volume) and their interpretation (chapters 9—9, this volume). Accurate identification of plant remains is fundamental to the sophisticated interpretation of foraging and agricultural systems. Inaccurate identification can, at worst, lead to serious errors in the identification of early domesticates or plant introductions, as discussed by Harlan and de Wet (1973) in a classic article that is still relevant today. even in less extreme cases, poorquality identifications obscure changing patterns of plant use and present a major...

    • 8 Digitizing the Archaeobotanical Record
      (pp. 147-160)
      Christina Warinner and Jade d’Alpoim Guedes

      We now live in a digital age. The rise of digital technology over the last 30 years has provided numerous opportunities for generating, storing, and disseminating paleoethnobotanical data in novel and unexpected ways. The pace of technological innovation is rapidly increasing as computer memory and processing speeds improve, allowing dramatic leaps in software sophistication and global networking. As such, research today proceeds on shifting sands, as technological waves deliver new tools while washing away the detritus of software and hardwareen voguejust years before. It is difficult to keep pace with this seemingly endless tide of change, especially for...

  9. Part III: Quantification and Analysis

    • 9 Ratios and Simple Statistics in Paleoethnobotanical Analysis: Data Exploration and Hypothesis Testing
      (pp. 163-180)
      John M. Marston

      From its earliest days as a discipline, paleoethnobotany moved rapidly from simple descriptive lists of macroscopic plant remains from archaeological contexts to quantification of those remains. Quantification is now seen as a critical step between the recovery of archaeological plant macroremains and their interpretation, but a variety of methods for quantification exist, from simple seed counts to multivariate statistics (Pearsall 2000). Matching this diversity of methods for quantification is the diversity in their application, with some scholars using simple quantitative methods for data exploration alone, others using them for data presentation, and still others using them for hypothesis testing. A...

    • 10 The Use of Multivariate Statistics within Archaeobotany
      (pp. 181-204)
      Alexia Smith

      Over the past decade, the use of multivariate statistics within archaeobotanical analyses has become commonplace, particularly within Europe. This chapter begins with a description of the types of multivariate techniques that have been used by archaeobotanists, followed by a brief history and a survey of studies that have used these techniques to explore plant data, outlining the ways in which the techniques have been applied to consider a broad range of research questions. Emphasis is placed on macrobotanical remains, particularly those from the Old World, but analyses of phytolith, starch grain, and pollen data are also discussed.

      Multivariate statistics encompass...

    • 11 Analysis and Interpretation of Intrasite Variability in Paleoethnobotanical Remains: A Consideration and Application of Methods at the Ravensford Site, North Carolina
      (pp. 205-234)
      Amber M. Van Derwarker, Jennifer V. Alvarado and Paul Webb

      Within the last decade, spatial analyses of plant remains within sites have become more common in archaeobotany. Despite an increase in the number of studies that focus on spatial variability, this approach nevertheless represents a relatively rare analytical mode in the subdiscipline. There has been no comprehensive treatment of this topic to date, leaving a gap in the literature that we address in this chapter. We begin with a literature review of studies that have attempted intrasite spatial analysis; as the termanalysisimplies some form of quantitative treatment of the data, we do not consider studies that simply describe...

    • 12 Intersite Variation within Archaeobotanical Charred Assemblages: A Case Study Exploring the Social Organization of Agricultural Husbandry in Iron Age and Roman Britain
      (pp. 235-254)
      Chris J. Stevens

      Less than 200 years ago, four-fifths of the world’s working population was engaged in agriculture in one form or another (Grigg 1985:137). Prior to industrialization, the organization and scheduling of sowing, harvesting, processing, storage, and consumption of crops in cereal-growing communities shaped almost every aspect of people’s lives. The annual cycles of such events determined the timing of both work and festivals through the year. They thus played an integral role in structuring political and economic systems, from settlement patterns (Stone 1996; Trigger 1968:62) to cosmological and ideological beliefs (Frazer 1912; Wilkinson and Stevens 2003:226—28).

      For many societies, the...

  10. Part IV: Integration of Paleoethnobotanical Data

    • 13 Peopling the Environment: Interdisciplinary Inquiries into Socioecological Systems Incorporating Paleoclimatology and Geoarchaeology
      (pp. 257-274)
      Timothy C. Messner and Gary E. Stinchcomb

      In recent decades scholars from the geological and social sciences have begun unraveling the inherently complex effects of human behavior on the environment and how climatically driven changes influence human lifeways. The objective of this chapter is to highlight (1) the state of intellectual inquiry into ancient socioecological systems and (2) the contributions of an emerging interdisciplinary approach that draws from the geological, biological, and social sciences and involves such fields as archaeobotany, geoarchaeology, and paleoclimatology (Craig et al. 2010; Liu et al. 2007a; Liu et al. 2007b; Stinchcomb et al. 2011; van der Leeuw and Redman 2002). For the...

    • 14 From the Ground Up: Advances in Stable Isotope–Based Paleodietary Inference
      (pp. 275-292)
      Christina Warinner

      Paleodietary reconstruction can provide great insights into social and environmental processes of the past. Three principal lines of research are typically applied to the investigation of ancient diet: paleoethnobotany, zooarchaeology, and stable isotope analysis. A fourth approach, ancient DNA analysis, has recently emerged and offers great promise for increased taxonomic resolution and the identification of genes under natural and artificial selection (see Wales et al., chapter 15, this volume). From microscopy to mass spectrometry to molecular biology, archaeologists have at their fingertips a diverse range of tools to make inferences about ancient diet from the atomic to the macroscopic level....

    • 15 Ancient Biomolecules from Archaeobotanical Remains
      (pp. 293-314)
      Nathan Wales, Kenneth Andersen and Enrico Cappellini

      The termancient biomoleculesdescribes the suite of organic substances that, after the death of a living system, can still provide meaningful information when analyzed with molecular methods. Despite the action of biotic and abiotic diagenetic processes, these molecules can be identified and characterized using analytical procedures accounting for the chemical peculiarities of ancient biomolecules.

      Ancient genetic evidence is one of the most frequently analyzed types of ancient biomolecular data, principally because it facilitates the reconstruction of evolutionary and selection dynamics, as well as past genetic diversity. In a living eukaryotic cell, most genetic information is coded on a set...

    • 16 A Landscape Context for Paleoethnobotany: The Contribution of Aerial and Satellite Remote Sensing
      (pp. 315-336)
      Jesse Casana

      At first glance, aerial and satellite remote sensing technologies would seem to offer few contributions to paleoethnobotanical research. Although these data sets constitute unparalleled resources for documenting the regional distribution and dynamic changes in plant communities today, planes and satellites are only a few decades old and the images they collect cannot be used to directly detect ancient plants. Moreover, dramatic changes in climate, patterns of land use, and the resultant distribution of vegetation over the Holocene mean that any measure of modern vegetation may have little resemblance to past landscapes. In the lowlands of the yucatan Peninsula, areas now...

  11. Part V: Interpretation

    • 17 Human Behavioral Ecology and Paleoethnobotany
      (pp. 339-354)
      Kristen J. Gremillion

      At the core of human behavioral ecology (HBE) lies the principle that Darwinian evolutionary theory has something important to say about human decision making. Humans, like other animals, have been shaped over millennia of natural selection to behave in ways that, overall and in the long term, help them to survive and potentially raise reproductively successful off-spring (Smith and Winterhalder 1992; Winterhalder and Goland 1997). Unlike other animals, humans have a degree of behavioral flexibility that allows them to adjust to virtually any environment. They also have culture, a system of social transmission of information that does much of the...

    • 18 Documenting Human Niche Construction in the Archaeological Record
      (pp. 355-370)
      Bruce D. Smith

      The termhuman niche constructionprovides a useful general heading for the broad and diverse category of different activities carried out by human societies that result in modification of their surrounding environment. Developed in evolutionary biology and ecology over the past three decades, niche construction theory addresses what was recognized as a basic flaw in the general concept of adaptation—namely that organisms do not simply adapt to their selective environments but in fact play an active role in shaping them: “Organisms do not adapt to their environment; they construct them out of the bits and pieces of the external...

    • 19 Paleoethnobotanical Analysis, Post-Processing
      (pp. 371-390)
      Shanti Morell-Hart

      Paleoethnobotanists, like many other archaeological specialists, are often found in the uncomfortable position of straddling two domains: hard sciences and humanistic studies. We are left feeling as though our methodologies and statistical approaches must be as rigorous as those found in our sister sciences—botany, ecology, forestry, and the like—but that our research questions must also be strongly humanistic in nature, addressing interpretive frameworks and cultural perspectives. Ours is not the only field with such struggles (psychology, economics, and sociology come to mind), but the nature of our data is rather unique, encompassing material traces related to virtually every...

  12. References Cited
    (pp. 391-530)
  13. About the Contributors
    (pp. 531-534)
  14. Index
    (pp. 535-548)