1st Edition

Case Studies in Paleoethnobotany
Understanding Ancient Lifeways through the Study of Phytoliths, Starch, Macroremains, and Pollen

ISBN 9781611322965
Published June 27, 2018 by Routledge
260 Pages

USD $44.95

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Book Description

Case Studies in Paleoethnobotany focuses on interpretation in paleoethnobotany. In it the reader is guided through the process of analyzing archaeobotanical data and of using that data to address research questions. Part I introduces archaeobotanical remains and how they are deposited, preserved, sampled, recovered, and analyzed. Five issue-oriented case studies make up Part II and illustrate paleoethnobotanical inference and applications. A recurrent theme is the strength of using multiple lines of evidence to address issues of significance.

This book is unique in its explicit focus on interpretation for "consumers" of paleoethnobotanical knowledge. Paleoethnobotanical inference is increasingly sophisticated and contributes to our understanding of the past in ways that may not be apparent outside the field or to all practitioners. The case study format allows in-depth exploration of the process of interpretation in the context of significant issues that will engage readers. No other work introduces paleoethnobotany and illustrates its application in this way.

This book will appeal to students interested in ancient plant–people interrelationships, as well as archaeologists, paleoethnobotanists, and paleoecologists. The short methods chapters and topical case studies are ideal for instructors of classes in archaeological methods, environmental archaeology, and ethnobiology.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Part I: The Nature and Study of Paleoethnobotanical Remains

Chapter 1. Paleoethnobotanical Remains

Introduction: The Paleoethnobotanical Approach

Paleoethnobotanical Data and their Study



Fruits and nuts


Roots and tubers




Studying archaeobotanical remains

The comparative collection

Chapter 2. Deposition and Preservation of Paleoethnobotanical Remains


Macroremain Deposition and Preservation




Grinding stone example

Phytolith Deposition and Preservation




Grinding stone example

Starch Deposition and Preservation




Grinding stone example

Pollen Deposition and Preservation




Grinding stone example

Conclusion: Deposition and Preservation of Paleoethnobotanical Remains

Chapter 3. Field Sampling and Recovery


Strategies and Techniques for Sampling

Flotation and Fine Sieving

Flotation example: Using a SMAP-style system

Pre-flotation preparations


Post-flotation cleanup

Hints for good recovery of macroremains by machine-assisted flotation

Collecting Artifacts and Residues for Starch (and other microfossil) Analysis

Guidelines for selecting artifacts

Criteria for artifact selection

Control samples

Handling artifacts

Provenience information

Field-sampling of residues for microfossil study


Procedure for unwashed artifacts

Reducing water volume

Chapter 4. Approaches to Paleoethnobotanical Interpretation


Qualitative analysis

Quantitative analysis

Common Measures used to Interpret Archaeobotanical Data

Raw data tabulation

Ubiquity/percentage presence



Application of multivariate techniques

Reading a Stratigraphic Diagram

Part II: Interpreting Paleoethnobotanical Data: Case Studies

Chapter 5. Investigating Neanderthal Life-ways through Paleoethnobotany


Background to the Case Study

Neanderthal Diet(s): The Contribution of Plant and Animal Foods

Neanderthals as top predators: Faunal and isotope evidence

Neanderthals as foragers: Botanical evidence

Near East and Mediterranean

Central and northern Europe

Foraging practices of early modern humans

Near East, Europe and Africa

South and Southeast Asia

Discussion: Plant foods in Neanderthal diet

Neanderthal-Plant Interrelationships Beyond Diet

Medicinal plant use

Fuel selection

Ecosystem management

Spatial Organization of Sites as a Reflection of Modern Behavior

Early modern human example: Sibudu Cave, South Africa

Summary and discussion: Neanderthals and modern behaviors beyond diet

Conclusion: Investigating Neanderthal Life-ways through Paleoethnobotany

Chapter 6. The Paleoethnobotany of Maize: Understanding Domestication and Agriculture


Is it maize? Identifying and Characterizing Maize Remains






Summary and discussion: Identifying maize

Assessing the Importance of Maize in Prehistoric Food-ways


Assessing the abundance of maize

Assessing the impact of maize on the landscape

Summary and discussion: Identifying the importance and impact of maize

Conclusion: Contributions of Paleoethnobotany to Studying Domestication and Agriculture

Chapter 7. Archaeobotany and Insights into Social Relationships at Cahokia


Overview of Cahokia: The Site, Chiefdom, and Subsistence Base

Cahokia: Site and cultural sequence

Subsistence and landuse

Changing Social Relationships and Foodways: Overview

Maize, Elites, and Ritual at Cahokia

Insights from macroremains, cooking pots, and residues

Stable isotope and skeletal studies of human remains

Summary: Maize and social status at Cahokia

Food, Status, and Social Relationships: Beyond Maize

Animals in ritual and diet of elites and non-elites at Cahokia

Black drink and cacao

Conclusion: Contributions of Paleoethnobotany to understanding social relationships at Cahokia

Chapter 8. An Individual's Relationship to the Natural World: Ötzi, the Tyrolean Iceman


Discovery and Excavation

The Iceman’s Equipment and Clothing

Studies of the Iceman’s Body

Health and cause of death

Clues to Ötzi's diet and travels

Environmental and Archaeological Studies of the Iceman Site and Region

Conclusion: Insights from Paleoethnobotany into the Life and Times of Ötzi

Chapter 9. Plants and Healing/Health


Interpretation based on Medicinal Properties of Plants

Eastern North America

Europe and Southwest Asia


Medicinal Plants in Compelling Archaeological Contexts

Central and South America


East Asia

Coprolites and Latrines: Evidence from the Ingestion of Medicinal Plants

North America

South America

Southwest Asia and Europe

Analyzing Medicinal Preparations/Residues

North America

Europe and Africa

Identifying Active Plant Agents in Human Remains

Conclusion: Investigating Plants and Healing/Health through Paleoethnobotany

Chapter 10. Conclusion: Understanding Ancient Lifeways through Paleoethnobotany


Methodological Aspects of Making Convincing Interpretations

Approaching Interpretation at Different Scales of Analysis

Final Thoughts

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Deborah M. Pearsall is Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri, having retired in 2013 after 35 years. She holds a BA from the University of Michigan and an MA and PhD from the University of Illinois, all of which are in the subject of Anthropology. Her interests within this discipline center on South American archaeology and paleoethnobotany: the study of plant–people interrelationships through the archaeological record. She has conducted paleoethnobotanical research in numerous locations in the Americas. Her research has two broad themes: the origins and spread of agriculture in the lowland Neotropics, and methods and approaches in paleoethnobotany. She is the author of three books: Paleoethnobotany: A Handbook of Procedures; Plants and People in Ancient Ecuador: The Ethnobotany of the Jama River Valley; and, with D. R. Piperno, The Origins of Agriculture in the Lowland Neotropics. She was also the general editor of Academic Press’s 2008 Encyclopedia of Archaeology and has published in numerous professional journals and edited collections.