5th Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Pascal Flohr

From the 5th Experimental Archaeology Conference, Reading, 2011.

Stable isotope analyses of ancient cereal grains for environmental reconstruction: using experimental archaeology to improve existing methodology

Pascal Flohr

Department of Archaeology, University of Reading

Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis of ancient cereal grains is a promising new method to reconstruct the environment and ancient agricultural practices such as irrigation. However, while the main principles underlying the method are well established in modern plant sciences, there are still a number of questions relating to the viability of its application to archaeological samples. This research aims to address these issues and improve the existing methodology through experimental archaeology. In order to investigate the relationship between plant stable isotope ratios, water availability and other environmental variables, isotope analysis is being conducted on experimentally grown cereal crops cultivated at three different sites in Jordan. Wheat, barley and sorghum were grown for three years under different amounts of irrigation, ranging from 0% (rainfall only) to 120% of the plants’ optimum water requirements. Environmental factors, such as rainfall and temperature, were closely monitored. To research the viability of the method for archaeological samples which have been buried for long periods of time and are often charred, experimental charring of grains was carried out and samples buried at sites in Jordan and the United Kingdom. The results of this research and the implications for the use of the method within archaeology will be discussed in this paper.

Further information:

Flohr, Pascal, Gundula Müldner, Emma Jenkins 2011: Carbon stable isotope analysis of cereal remains as a way to reconstruct water availability: preliminary results. Water History 3(2): 121-144
Pascal Flohr 2010: Sowing and burying grains: experiments to investigate the use of plant stable isotopes in archaeology, CBRL Bulletin 5: 57-60.
Pascal Flohr, Bill Finlayson, Steven Mithen and Mohammad Najjar 2011: Building with mud: Reconstructing a PPNA pisé building, CBRL Bulletin 6: 52-53.

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