Palaeobotany (ARC2512)

StaffProfessor Jose Iriarte - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Students will gain an understanding of how to identify, count, and statistically manipulate such data. By the end of the module, students will be acquainted with how plant assemblages can be interpreted to give us a fuller picture of past economies and human-environment interactions in different archaeological periods.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Show appreciation of the theoretical and practical issues of archaeobotany and understand how this knowledge may be applied
  • 2. Learn, and know how to use, the basic terms and conventions employed in archaeobotany
  • 3. With limited guidance demonstrate basic competence in identification of the plants from some common plant species on low and high power microscopes and/or on-line resources, digital reference collections and on-line exercises
  • 4. With limited guidance prepare and interpret primary archaebotanical data
  • 5. Appreciate the ways in which ancient plant assemblages can tell us about past economies and human-environment interactions in different archaeological periods

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 6. Have a competent overview of the use and acquisition of practical data
  • 7. Interpret a variety of information forms and assimilate/manage numerical and graphical data

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. With limited guidance manage data and display it graphically
  • 9. Acquire a range of observational and analytical skills which are applicable in the wider world. Contribute to group discussions, ask pertinent questions and co-operate with and learn from peers

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction to archaeobotany, different classes of plant remains, field sampling, and plant recovery techniques
  • Plant macrofossil identification
  • Phytolith morphology of grasses (Poaceae)
  • Wood, fruits, and seed phytoliths
  • Plant domestication I: Phytoliths from wild and domesticated plants
  • Plant domestication II: Starch grain analysis
  • Quantification, presentation, and interpretation of archaeobotanical data
  • Integrating paleoecological methods in the study of past agricultural systems
  • Human impact on past environments
  • Case studies

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching30Made up of approximately 15 hours of lecture and live discussion content, approximately 8 hours of guided data analysis exercises and 7 guided practical engagement with archaeological plant material
Guided independent study120Independent study for assignments and use of computer aided learning and reference resources regarding plant identification

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Project one 502000 words1-9Written feedback
Project two 502000 words 1-9Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Project oneProject one1-9Referral/Deferral period
Project twoProject two1-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

A new title will be set for both projects.

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Balick, M. J. and Cox, P.A. 1996: Plants, People, and Culture. Scientific American Library.
  • Fahn, A. 1982: Plant Anatomy. Pergamon Press.
  • Hastorf, C.A. and Popper, V. S. 1989: Current Paleoethnobotany: Analytical Methods and Cultural Interpretations of Archaeological Plant Remains. University of Chicago Press.
  • Martin, A.C. and Barkley, D.W. 1961: Seed Identification Manual. University of California Press.
  • Pearsall, D.M. 2000: Paleoethnobotany: A Handbook of Procedures. Academic Press.
  • Piperno, D.R. 2006: Phytoliths: A Comprehensive Guide for Archaeologists and Paleoecologists. Altamira Press.
  • Piperno, Dolores R. and Pearsall Deborah D. 1998: The Origins of Agriculture in the Lowland Neotropics. Academic Press.
  • Simpson, B. and Ogorzaly, M. 2000: Economic Botany. Plants in Our World. Mc-Graw Hill- Science.
  • Smith, B. D. 1998: The Emergence of Agriculture. American Library.

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Environmental Archaeology
  • Journal of Human Ecology

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Archaeobotany, Phytoliths