Paleoethnobotany Lab

The paleoethnobotany lab is dedicated to the identification and interpretation of macro remains of plants and wood recovered from archaeological sites.  The lab consists of a stereo microscope with an attached camera, a smaller binocular microscope for aid in sorting flotation samples, associated supplies (sieves, balances, and small hand tools), a small reference library, and a comparative collection of over 250 species of modern dried and modern charred seeds, nuts, and wood.  The comparative collection is essential for the identification of archaeological remains, since the ancient remains are often fragmented and devoid of some of the diagnostic features.  The comparative remains allow a researcher to compare modern and archaeological specimens in similar states of preservation for more accurate identification. 

Comparative modern seeds are also very useful in comparing seed sizes to the archaeological remains.  An increase in seed size, sometimes accompanied with changes in seed shape and seed testa thickness, are some of the observable genetic consequences of plant domestication.  The native plants that were domesticated in prehistory include lambsquarter (Chenopodium berlandieri), marshelder (Iva annua), and sunflower (Helianthus annuus).  In each of these plants, the domesticated seeds are significantly larger than the modern wild counterpart.

Mary Adair has been responsible for the development and growth of the paleoethnobotanical lab and collections through the years.  Her research focuses on diet, health and foodways of prehistoric and early historic North American plains cultures, with special attention given to early Plains agriculture.  She has more than 30 years of experience working with PEB collections recovered from sites in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota, which range in age from early Archaic to early 20th century Euroamerican homesteads.