Tuesday 14 April 2009

Recent South Asian Archaeobotany

Kanmer. The joint excavations of the Kharakwal and the Osada Project of RIHN (Kyoto). Two preliminary reports have been published in the occassional papers series of the project (nos. 2, [2007], and 5, [2008])-- difficult to obtain publications. Both include some archaeobotanical data (lists of species present by samples) provided from analysis by Pokharia in Lucknos.

Ojiyana. Anil Pokharia reports the plant remains from Ojiyana a Chalcolithic site of the Banas [Ahar] Tradition in Rajasthan, in Current Science March 2008 [pdf]. As seems to be emerging as a pattern with sites dated at BS, two dates are anamolously early (both ca. 5000 BC) and out of stratigraphic sequence with two dates in the 1750-1400 cal. BC range, which is more in keeping with the materail cultural of the site (Ahar/Banas pottery and I presume copper artefacts). In keeping with the tradition of the Lucknow school of archaeobotany, quantification is assiduously avoided, but presence/absence data is provided only (for 29 samples). Some metrical data is indicated for the identified but as broad ranges, so no sample size or standard deviation can be calculated. Of note are the presence (in one sample each) or finger, sorghum and safflower. Sesame is rather more widespread. Naked wheat and barley (both hulled and naked) and rice are near ubiquitous, as is "Setaria sp./ Setaria italica"-- how much (if any) of the latter might be Brachiaria ramosa deserves consideration. Nevertheless a valuable contribution in as much as it provide a diverse suite of species in a region poorly sampled archaeobotanically [the only other well-samples site is Deccan College's Balathal].

Tokwa.  In Current Science in January 2008, Anil Pokharia reported archaeobotanical evidence from flotation at this excavation by Allahabad University between 2001 and 2003 [some small samples collected by the team in 2000 came to London for analysis by Emma Harvey & Fuller]. As seems to be emerging as a pattern with sites dated at BS, one date is anamolously early (ca. 580 BC) and out of stratigraphic sequence with two dates in the 1800-1500 cal. BC range, which is more in keeping with the material culture and regional context (comparable to Mahagara and Neolithic Koldihwa down stream-- where a good series of AMS dates on crops in the PhD of Emma Harvey are consistent with the Late Neolithic 1800-1500 BC range).  Pokharia is suitably cautious about accepting the early date. In this study counts of each species are given but details on the contexts sampled, and which samples contained which species is not provided. Of note are finds of brown mustard and flax alongside the standard rice, barley, wheat triumvirate of this time/region. Two possible mis-identifications must be noted. In Fig. 3N the photographs look like a Panicum (and not a Setaria as reported!), perhaps on the small side for P. miliaceum but the broad and short shape is more suggestive of miliaceum than sumatrense, and the reported length is consistently above 1.5mm which seems big for sumatrense. The second duboius ID is the headlined find of custard apple (Annona), which we expect to be native to South America. Claims from other sites also appear dubious.  I wonder whether we might no consider some fruit in the Ebenaceae (Diospryos) and a Sapindaceae.

Bhairabdhanga/ Pakhanna. Of interest is this unexpected archaeobotanical report from a new lab (or a lab not normally doing archaeobotany), which represents really the first archaeobotany in West Bengal. Authors, Ghosh et al., from the Botany Dept. of Calcutta University reported this in the Chinese edited but English Journal of Integrative Plant Biology in June 2006. The site is apparently Chalcolithic to Iron Age and Early Historic and said to be "in the Bhairabdhanga area of Pakhanna" (at Lat. and Long. that don't quite fit the described location). The only species reported are brown mustard, rice and urd bean, so I presume a large scale flotation program was not part of the project. Withouth stratigraphic details of the samples, they float between an early C14 date of ca. 1600 BC  (but with gross 400 yr error bars, putting it anywhere between 2000 and 1000 BC!) and two others of around AD 0. Still some new, but not surprising, data from a blank region. Lets hope it is just the beginning of archaeobotany in this region. They also report pollen data from the site, but this aren't very informative. The reported presence of Tamarindus  is of note. (but how confident can we be in genus/species level pollen ID in the tree legumes?)

Areca nuts. Also of note is the useful, critical review on the history the Areca palm and Areca chewing by Thomas Zombroich, published in the Electronic Journal of Indian Medicine.

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