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Non-pollen palynomorphs as an aid to the identification of ancient farming activities: an experimental and archaeological approach

Morandi, L. (2018) Non-pollen palynomorphs as an aid to the identification of ancient farming activities: an experimental and archaeological approach. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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This research aims to assess the potential of non-pollen microfossils in archaeological research, as this evidence provides an important and previously overlooked contribution to the investigation Neolithic farming activities and their environmental impact. The Ligurian Neolithic provides an excellent cultural and environmental framework to test this approach, given the presence of upland mires suggesting human-driven vegetation change. In particular, the study aims to assess whether the introduction of a pastoral economy is detectable in the palaeoecological record. The analysis of a Middle Holocene sequence from an upland mire (Prato Spilla ‘A’, 1550m asl) allowed new inferences, partially questioning previous studies. The sequence was rich in NPPs, showing the occurrence of several types indicating, amongst others, hydrological changes, grazing herbivores on the site and a relatively dense tree canopy. The presence of Neolithic communities settled in the region makes it difficult to distinguish between natural and human-driven changes. However, due to the probable absence of long-distance transhumance in the period, it is likely that the outlined picture mostly results from natural events. Deep cores dated to the Early and Middle Neolithic (6th-5th Millennium BC) from a coastal alluvial plain (Genoa, Piazza della Vittoria) were analysed. The results show the unequivocal presence of herbivores around a site where possible remains of piledwellings were found, as well as periods of desiccation and flooding of the area. This is a significance contribution to the archaeology of the region, given the paucity of evidence for human occupation of coastal areas during this period. The issue of prehistoric field manuring was also addressed, studying samples from a Bronze Age terraced site (Castellaro di Uscio). Palynological analysis point to a relatively open landscape during the Final Bronze Age, complementing previous studies on charcoal macro-remains and suggesting that the collection of wood was highly selective. Archaeological layers from a Neolithic cave (Cave of Arene Candide) were analysed, showing the validity of dung fungal spores to identify stabling layers in pastoral sites. In addition, a short chapter on stable nitrogen isotopes from bulk sediment samples was added, in order to test this method as a further tool for the investigation of dung deposits. The potential of coprophilous spores as localised indicators to identify archaeological animal enclosures was assessed through the analysis of a range of modern samples from dung heaps, stable floors and outdoor corrals from sites characterised by different animal densities and frequency of use. A reference dataset of spore concentration per unit of volume and weight is provided as an aid to the interpretation of ancient contexts. The results show the importance of surface disturbance due to animal trampling as a likely driving factor for spore abundance, as well as the variability of coprophilous assemblages and dominant taxa. Light was shed on the informative potential of newly identified microfossils strongly associated with herbivore dung and of spores of hay-inhabiting thermophilic fungi. The method was tested on a stratified deposit from an abandoned rock shelter used as a stable for several decades, and the results compared to the abundance of faecal spherulites and total phosphorus. A clear match between these proxies was shown, as well as the relevance of the study to detect in the archaeological record short-term episodes of abandonment, leading to fungal growth and sporulation.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Branch, N. and Bell, M.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Archaeology, Geography & Environmental Science
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Archaeology
ID Code:78946
Date on Title Page:2017
Additional Information:Published works removed from Appendix III as copyright permissions not established


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