Phytolith analysis

PhytolithDr. des. Marta Dal Corso  | Tel. 880.2338 | Raum: 37

Within Environmental Archaeology, phytolith analysis* is one of the tools available in the field of Archaeobotany. At the Institute of Pre- and Protohistory, a first line of research based on phytoliths, funded by the Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes, concerns the development of identification criteria for Eurasian cereals by measuring phytoliths from recent plant material. The project focuses particularly on cereal leaves, since despite their economic value, leaves and culms tend to remain undetected and unidentified in the archaeobotanical record compared to grains and chaff. The development of these new proxies coincides with an urgent need for further development of phytolith systematics. The research outcomes will be of relevance for archaeobotany, taxonomy and palaeoecology, and for all regions and periods where the studied Eurasian taxa occurred.

Secondly, the research also includes the phytolith analysis of archaeological samples, focussing on prehistoric and protohistoric sites. The sample preparation is carried out in the palynological lab that is fully equipped for phytolith analysis. Central questions concern plant exploitation, the interaction between plants and people in the past and our understanding of former societies.

  *Phytoliths are microscopic silica plant particles that form in and between epidermal plant cells. Their application as an archaeobotanical and palaeoecological tool can be especially useful to detect plant parts other than the flowering parts, which are commonly targeted with pollen and macroremains analysis. Moreover, they allow the detection of plants at archaeological sites with a poor preservation of organic material. Combined with other archaeobotanical and archaeological proxies, phytoliths can be applied to answer questions about the interaction between plants and people in the past and to reconstruct economic and social aspects of former societies.