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Archaeobotany: Plant Remains

column sample The original research design for data recovery at Zatopec called for recovering samples to analyze for pollen and other, larger plant remains (called macrobotanicals). The microbotanical (pollen and phytolith, both of which are too small to see with the naked eye) and macrobotanical results together comprise the archaeobotanical analysis for this project. Through these analyses it was hoped that archaeologists could reconstruct, at least partially, the ancient environment(s) at the site when it was occupied. Additionally, analysts wanted to understand economic and dietary plant use by the site's prehistoric inhabitants. Samples for pollen analysis were collected from various contexts, including a continuous series of samples in a column from near the burial, as well as from specific locations in and around the three human interments.

phytoliths Results:

Pollen results from PaleoResearch Institute, Golden, Colorado (upper image):scale bar in bottom right micrographs (G and H) is 0.01 mm, A) is diagnostic of the grass subfamily Pooideae, B) diagnostic of the common reed (Phragmites australis), C) diagnostic of the sedge family (Cyperaceae) achenes, (D-G) diagnostic of the arrowroot family (Marantaceae), H) reference phytolith diagnostic of Calathea allouia.

Results from the Palynology Laboratory at Texas A&M University, College Station (lower image): A) High spine, B) Poaceae--Grass Family, C) Ligulaflora, D) TCT--Yew/Cypress, E) Onagraceae--Evening Primrose Family, F) Low spine, G) Justicia--Acanthus Famiy/Water Willow, H) Cirsium--Thistle, I) Malvaceae--Mallow Family, J) Chenopodiaceae/Amaranthus, K) Poaceae cf. Cerealia, L) Ulmus--Elm, M) Pinus, N) Juglans--Walnut, O) Quercus--Oak , and P) Ligustrum--Olive Family/Privet.


Each of the above two labs' results included many more phytoliths that were unidentifiable due to weathering and physical destruction. Both reports of microbotanical analysis suggested that the environment at Zatopec was not particularly ideal for the preservation of microbotanical remains.

Macrobotanical analysis performed at the Archaeological Research Laboratory at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, identified botanical remains including acorn, hickory, hackberry, persimmon seed, Aster family, chenopod, monocot stem (grass), nightshade family, pine cone, pink family, pitch, purslane, verbena, and many other unidentifiable remains.

From these archaeobotanical studies, we learned that the prehistoric occupants of Zatopec took advantage of nutritional value provided by surrounding vegetation, that folks of the Late Archaic II and Austin times relied more heavily on wild onion and chenopod, and also that the climate in the past, at least during Austin times, was cooler and wetter than it is today.