Friday, 21 September 2018

Improved methods for looking at plant remains in pots

I have previously highlighted the potential of ct-Scanning and synchrotron imaging to look inside archaeological seeds, or seeds inside archaeological pots. And wanted here to highlight the publication of a more detailed protocol for ct-scanning bits of pottery for looking at inclusions, recently published by Barron and Denham in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. We have, of course, been looking at impression of plant temper on the surface of sherds from a long time, since the days of Hans Helbaek in the 1940s. It seems unlikely that the utility of casting  and studying impressions on sherd surfaces will go away, as it remains something that is easily carried out in bulk across large sherd assemblage with relative speed and low cost-- providing among other things our best current evidence on sorghum domestication. Nevertheless, the beauty of ct-scanning lies in the ability to see a much larger sample of impressions below the surface, including those that are potentially much better and more completely preserved than those just on the surface. The example of the rice spikelet pictured at left from a sherd from Loc Giang, a Neolithic site in Vietnam is a nice case in point. 

The spikelet bases from this site and sherds from nearby An Son leave no doubt as the domesticated status of rice in this part of Second Millennium BC Vietnam. Interestingly, imaging also found a wild Lemna (duckweed) seed in a sherd from An Son. What remains an open question, however, from a single specimen like this is whether this should be interpreted as a weed of wet rice, or merely a component of clay gathered from a wetland. The weight of archaeobotanical evidence at present points to Neolithic rice in Southeast Asia being large rainfed (see published discussion in "Pathways of Rice Diversification..."), which would not create conditions suitable for Lemna, so I would favour seeing this as a component of the clay. Also of note is the identification of pebble inclusions in sherds from the hunter-gatherers site Con Co Ngua-- such pebbles are the kind of inclusions that have from time to time been mistaken for seeds in pottery...

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