ATH 242-01

Floral Analysis

  • The examination of plant use by ancient people
  • AKA paleoethnobotany/archaeobotany
  • analysts classify plant remains as three types:
    1. macrofossils
    2. microfossils
    3. chemical traces


  • plant remains visible to the naked eye
  • charcoal, nuts, seeds, wood, basketry
  • preservation is usually poor unless the material has been charred
  • these might also be found in coprolites (fossilized feces)


  • using water separation to recover macrofossils
  • results in a “light” and “heavy” fraction
  • material is then sorted and identified under a microscope
  • charcoal may also be useful for identifying patterns of wood use


  • plant remains identifiable only under microscope
  • pollen, spores
  • Palynology: pollen analysis – how plants were used, what was the environment
  • phytoliths (Gk: plant stones): microscopic silica bodies formed in plants

Chemical traces

  • chemical evidence of plants can be sometimes found as
  1. fatty residue and amino acids on artifacts
  2. DNA fragments in plant remains
  3. carbon isotopes and trace elements in bones
  • stable carbon isotope analysis: measures the proportions of certain plants in the diet
  1. based on a test of human bone

Faunal analysis

  • identification of animal remains
  • understanding how assemblages are created and transformed
  • used to reconstruct diet and environment
  • involves looking at all animals
    • mammals
    • birds
    • reptiles
    • amphibians
    • fish
    • shellfish


  • the processes by which living animals are transformed into parts of the archaeological record
    • studying scavenging patterns
  • bones are the most obvious and best preserved remains, but we might also find:
    • horns, hair, skin, muscle tissue, stomach contents, animal coprolites

bone identification

  • first step in understanding an assemblage
  • usually only looking at a sample from a site
  • many bones not identifiable
    • broken fragments
    • lack of identifiable characteristics
  • identification is not always to species level
    • kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, sub-species/race

faunal collection descriptives

  • NISP: Number of Individual SPecimens attributable to a species
  • MNI: Minimum Number of Individuals — counting the most common element in skeleton for a species
    • left and right sides must be considered

Faunal interpretation

  • based on ethnoarchaeology
  • GUI: General Utility Index. A measure of each bone’s usefulness for meat, marrow, grease, etc.
  • Schlepp effect: selective transport of body parts for food
  • cutmarks on bone: useful for identifying butchery patterns


  • can sometimes be demonstrated with faunal and floral collections
  • deer mandibles (born late May, early June)
  • type of material being collected/used at a site
  • season for specific types of fish (ex: salmon)
  • season for specific kind of animals (hibernation)
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