Archaeobotany is the study of plant remains in archaeology. These can vary in size from microscopic plant remains such as pollen and seeds to large wood pieces or complete trees. The remains of seeds, grain, fruit stones and nut shells can tell us about land-use, diets, gathering strategies, forms of cultivation and even spiritual beliefs (a cultural area closely connected to the use of plants for medicinal and perception-altering effects). Wood, plant fibres and charcoal can tell us about buildings and industrial production (and are also used in dendro- and radiocarbon dating techniques). In common with other environmental archaeologists, Archaeobotanists are primarily interested in reconstructing past ecology, and understanding the role of humans in selecting and modifying the flora of their own environment.

Botanical remains are normally collected from excavated material using a flotation system which passes water through a soil sample and separates tiny seeds, fibres and wood fragments from the soil, sieving them to a size which can be as small as 300 microns (0.03 cm). Charred grains (which were burnt during drying or preservation processes) are often particularly well preserved. The plant remains are then examined, identified and analysed using microscopes. More recently, studying plant DNA has become of greater interest to archaeobotanists. Extracting plant DNA is a much more elaborate scientific process, but early results promise a new and informative source of information on ancient techniques of plant domestication, food residues on pottery, and plant-derived products such as dyes and fibres used in artefact production.

(From Past Perfect)