Characterization of Plant Ash Morphology Using Scanning Electron Microscopy


Calcitic plant ashes are a ubiquitous indicator of anthropogenic activity at archaeological sites. In conducive preservation environments, ashes may form undisturbed deposits in which individual ash crystals remain intact and identifiable. Under these conditions, ashes afford a unique opportunity to better understand both the human selection of fuel as well as to investigate changes in vegetation communities in response to climate change. This study seeks to characterize ash crystal morphologies for various hardwood and softwood species in the American Midsouth using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). Preliminary data support previous research, which identified a morphological difference between deciduous and coniferous species. However, our results demonstrate that this pattern is less discrete than previously recorded, and indicate that the size and volume of crystals must be quantified in addition to simply qualitatively characterizing crystal shape. Moreover, ashes combusted from different anatomical parts of the same species (e.g., pine wood versus pine needle), show considerable differences in both size and shape and therefore require more robust indicators to differentiate. The ultimate goal of this research is to develop a comparative collection of ash crystal morphologies using experimentally combusted materials for comparison to archaeological samples from across the Midsouth.

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Characterization of Plant Ash Morphology Using Scanning Electron Microscopy. Janene Johnston, Lara Homsey-Messer, Karla Johnston. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397917)

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min long: -91.274; min lat: 24.847 ; max long: -72.642; max lat: 36.386 ;