Friday, 9 July 2010

Gansu Province survey archaeobotany

A recent issue of the Chinese Science Bulletin contains an archaeobotanical paper from what appears to be a new archaeobotanical research group. An ChengBang et al. report evidence from survey archaeobotany in Qinan and Li counties, and as such follows in the path laid by flotation as part of field surveys published previously from the Yiluo Survey (Lee et al 2007) and the Ying Survey (Fuller and Zhang 2007; see also our GIS study in Journal of Archaeological Science). This new study is based on 96 samples, from something like about 40 sites (although this is not entirely clear). Unfortunately the full dataset is not published, and we are given a glimpse of it through summary data presented as bar chart of absolute counts of Panicum and Setaria grains. Not the most informative means of comparing across sites and periods with very different sample sizes. The presence of rice (7 grains in the Late Yangshao) and wheat and barley (from the Western Zhou period) are only referred to in the text description. No reference is made to any other species, whether pulses, fruits or weeds. One novel addition to the study was a stable carbon isotope study of the millet grains, which shows that Setaria tends to have a somewhat higher value than Panicum, as expected since although both are C4 plants they have different forms of the C4 mechanism. A novel technique but the results are still close enough that this is unlikely to replace morphological identification! While it is nice to see more archaeobotanical research being carried out in China, the attention to only cereals, the lack of discussion of archaeological context (it is even unclear which sites numbers are which period), a less helpful method of quantification, and the lack of full details makes this study a rather frustrating addition.

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