British Museum blog

Glimpses of diet through plant remains

Philippa Ryan, British Museum

Philippa sampling a 3,100 year old hearth in a large villa (E12.10) at Amara West

I’m in Sudan looking at ancient plant remains from Amara West to investigate past diet and the potential impact of climate change on how plants were used.

This type of evidence can also provide insight into social behaviour, such as differences in diet between richer and poorer households. Additionally, identifying certain types of plant remains, such as cereal processing detritus, can help to investigate the functions of certain rooms or outdoor areas in the town.

Tools of the trade: sieves for botanical samples

The excavators take sediment samples from archaeological contexts such as hearths, ovens, floors and storage bins for botanical analysis. Back at the dig-house, I process the bags of sediment they have collected to extract the charred and desiccated plant remains – using dry-sieving and flotation.

Philippa sorting through a sample after sieving, back in the work room

At the end of the dig season, these samples will then be taken back to the British Museum, with the permission of the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums, where I will identify the seeds and fruits in conjunction with Caroline Cartwright, who is also analysing the wood charcoal. Modern analytical equipment such as a Scanning Electron Microscopes can help with the identifications.

Scanning Electron Microscope image of tamarisk charcoal from Amara West (Caroline Cartwright)

In addition, I am taking further sediment samples back for processing in the laboratory to extract phytoliths (microscopic silicified plant cells) as another way of investigating the plant record.

On the Nile near Amara West, seeking modern plant material for reference collection

Whilst here, I have also been collecting plants to compare with the ancient plant materials. I have gathered grasses, reeds and branches of trees and shrubs from the riverbanks via boat (watching out for the large crocodiles!), a trip into the desert, and from the island of Ernetta where we are living.

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West, Archaeology, , , , , ,

2 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Alison M. says:

    *Crocodiles* – eek!! Very Indiana Jones :)

    Like

  2. Dave Loomis says:

    it is like a microscopic treasure hunt then? speaking of treasure… have you uncovered the ancient use of EZ Cheese aerosol spray cheese product? what is the source of this food of the gods? And how effulgent it must be to taste a .3mm dry-sieved specimen that has been aged for hundreds of years! What is the ancient word for NUMMI???

    it is inspiring to see you in the field so many years after you shared your plan to do just that. Yay!

    Like

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 12,287 other followers

Categories

Follow @britishmuseum on Twitter

British Museum on Instagram

'The absolutely-must-see exhibition of the year' ★★★★★ (The Times)
#DefiningBeauty is now open! We will be creating a major new gallery of the Islamic world, opening in 2018!
The new gallery will showcase the Museum’s world-class collection, from early Islamic art to contemporary works.
Director Neil MacGregor: ‘A generous gift from the @albukhary.foundation makes it possible to completely redisplay this important Islamic collection.’
#IslamicArt #art #gallery #museum For today’s #MuseumWeek theme of #architectureMW, we’re sharing stories of our building’s history. 
The Great Court opened in 2000 – the largest covered square in Europe. The Great Court roof has 3,312 glass panels. Each one is unique as the space is asymmetrical
#history #architecture #museum #London #DidYouKnow the Museum had its own tube stop between 1900 and 1933? Here it is in 1903 @ltmuseum 
#architectureMW #MuseumWeek #underground #tube #London #history This week we’re celebrating ‪#MuseumWeek with a new theme each day! Follow us on Twitter @britishmuseum to find out more. 
Today's #MuseumWeek theme is #architectureMW. We'll be sharing stories of our building's history. 
The first home of the British Museum was Montagu House, built in 1686. In this old museum at Montague House there were stuffed giraffes on the staircase! 
#history #museum #giraffe It’s #MuseumWeek and we’ve got all our ducks in a row… #souvenirsMW
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,287 other followers

%d bloggers like this: