New Team Members Part 3

the revenge of the team….

Part 3 is about another specialist we are adding to the roster,  an archaeobotanist. So what does an archaeobotanist do? Why do we need one of these? Archaeobotany- as the end of the word sounds- is botany or the study of plants. Plants are used by humans in all sorts of ways not just for eating. Grapes were the main ingredient in wine which was a huge part of Roman culture. Plants were used for use for fuel, medicine, and even decoration.

Do you know that each plant has unique seeds and pollen? Kinda like a fingerprint for each plant. A trained specialist can identify these.

Take an easy example of the acorn. It’s one of the most recognizable seeds from a tree when you see it you know it is from an oak tree. However, not all plants have seeds that are easy to identify by the naked eye. That is when a microscope comes in handy. By comparing a found archaeological specimen with a reference collection (as seen below) different species can be identified.

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Tools’ of an archaeobotanist (clockwise): Dissecting microscope, wood collection, fruit and seed collection, reference literature, charred samples, wood slide collection. (Photo J. Markwirth © GoetheUniversität Frankfurt am Main.) 

So what kind of things can we learn if we know the species present? Well, are there are a lot of desert plants? Because if there are it was likely an arid environment in the past. Are you currently in a flat plain but you find lots of evidence of pine cones and old-growth forests? That would suggest the site has suffered from deforestation. Was it caused by humans or changes in the natural environment? These questions and more can be answered by a trained archaeobotanist. Any and all plant matter we find in the 2021 season will be going to Hannah Lessiter to be studied.

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Hannah completed her BA (Hons) in Classical Studies in 2019 and is now studying for her MA in Classical Art and Archaeology at Royal Holloway, University of London in the UK. She has participated in excavations in the UK and Italy. Her most recent work in Italy includes working as assistant Archaeobotanist in Vacone as part of the Upper Sabina Tiberina Project.

We welcome her to the team!

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