As a part of environmental archaeology, archaeobotany has its roots in the 19th century, and today it is still a developing sub-discipline worldwide. Essentially, it is the identification and interpretation of plant remains collected from archaeological sites. The diet of past societies, their agricultural activities, the climate, and the vegetation of their environment can be reconstructed with the help of archaeobotany (Ergun et al. 2018).

In the mid-19th century, well-preserved plant remains drew the attention of botanists (Banning 2000), and early researchers working on plant remains were botanists. In the beginning, only plant macroremains were able to be studied, but in later periods, microremains also became able to be studied under the microscope. The first plant seeds that were studied were from Egyptian necropoles. Oswald Heer is regarded as the first archaeobotanist and the founder of this discipline. Heer carried out his studies on well-preserved plant remains in the lake dwellings near the Alps. He compared his archaeological samples with modern seeds, and this method is still in use (Ergun et al. 2018). Today, plants from archaeological contexts are recovered with the help of flotation, which is a technique based on water first introduced by Stuart Struever in 1968, making archaeobotanical samples more systematically collectable. The effectiveness of the technique is reflected in the increasing number of studies related to botany from the 1970s onwards (Pearsall 1989).

Nowadays, in every excavation, soil samples are collected for flotation. After flotation, the seeds are available for archaeobotanists’ examination under the microscope. By comparing the seeds with modern reference collections, archaeobotanists are able to identify them. Identification is usually followed by contextual analyses and interpretation. In this way, researchers can shed light on the cuisine, vegetation, and socio-economic activities of the past.

Ergun, M. Kabukçu, C. Çilingir, C. (2018), Arkeobotanik: İnsan ve Bitki İlişkisi Çerçevesinde Gelişen Bir Bilim Dalı, by S. Ünlüsoy C. Çakırlar, Ç. Çilingiroğlu. In  Arkeolojide Temel Yöntemler (pp.221-229) İstanbul: Ege Yayınları.

Banning, E. B. (2000). Analysing Plant Remains. In The Archaeologist’s Laboratory: The Analysis of Archaeological Data (pp. 213–233) Kluwer Academic Publishers

Pearsall, D. M. (1989). Paleoethnobotany A Handbook of Procedures. Academic Press, Inc.

Sorting and identifying seeds under the microscope