Research methods

Plant macrofossil analysis

One of the most common remains to be found on an archaeological site are those of seeds, which, especially if charred, can survive in situations where the general preservation is poor. Seeds, and other remains of plant such as woody stems, or actual leaf and moss fragments, are particularly important when examined with respect to their probably origins. That is to say they may have grown on the spot where the sample is taken, or have been transported to the spot from elsewhere. Within archaeology the allochthanous deposition of plant parts is of great interrest, especially when the relocation of plants parts could be the result of human activities.
Pollen analysis (Palynology)

Pollen can remain preserved in waterlogged deposits for several millenia, and as such is a valuable palaeoenvironmental indicator. The vegetation composition of an area directly affects, and is frequently affected by, the local human and animal populations. The pollen record very often displays these interactions for the period of deposition, and so provides useful markers in prehistory. An extensive reference set of pollen diagrams exist which can be used to quickly place a profile of samples into the sequence of vegetational changes which have occured in the local area. In addition climatic inference can be taken from the interpreted vegetational composition.
Fossil insects analysis (Paleoentomology)

Insects, the most common family of animals on the Earth, have very specific habitat and food requirements, and so can accurately represent the environment of the deposits in which they are found. There are species which, especially within the context of Northern environments, are almost specifically anthopocentric. They can only survive in the microenvironments created by human activities. Others feed only on particular plant or animal types, and, for example, can tell us much about stocking levels and fodder requirements. Additionally, insects are excellent indicators of environmental conditions, and with good sampling can give high resolution data on landscape and climate change.

The computer program BugsCEP, an ecology led application for the interpretation of insect assemblages, is being developed by an international team including Phil Buckland, at Umeå.
Wood species analysis

Identification of the tree species found at a site can give valuable information on resource utilisation, trade and climate. It is also essential if the wood is to be carbon dated.
Snail and mollusc analysis

Although rarely preserved outside of calcium rich soils, molluscs can provide valuable information on local environments and climate. In addition, certain species have been important food sources for past cultures, and even been used as jewelry.
Soil analysis

The geochemical properties of soils can be excellent indicators of past activities, both human and natural. For example, buried soils can tell us about ancient farming practices, lake sediments record the level of erosion in their catchment. Variations in the chemical components within a soil may indicate the changes in organic input, be it the location of corpses, or the fertilisation of fields. Further more the actual structure of the soil can be changed by human interference. Such factors can be observed through analysis of the Soil Micromorphology, and Soil Chemistry. Soil science also encompasses a variety of prospection techniques.

A small list of references useful to our subjects is maintained here.

Page Editor: Sandra Olsson

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