Dung through the Microscope: a Close-up View of Sample Origin

Author(s): Alexia Smith; Lucas Proctor

Year: 2017


In the 1980s, Naomi Miller’s seminal publications detailing the use and identification of dung fuel within archaeobotanical samples at Malyan provided archaeobotanists with an alternate explanation for the source of plant remains preserved archaeologically, allowing for considerations of ancient fuel use and pasturing practices. Since then, archaeobotanists have generally relied upon wood to weed seed ratios or the composition of weed assemblages to support the use of dung fuel within flotation samples. However, some disagreement exists within the literature on how certain assemblages should be interpreted. If remains do originate from dung fuel, they hold the potential to inform us about use of the local environment, pasturing practices, and seasonality, but if samples represent mostly clean crop processing debris, the questions that can be reliably addressed relate to agricultural choices and organization of labor. Consequently, reliably identifying sample source is essential. This study examines experimentally charred caprid pellets, cattle dung, and wood fuel using scanning electron microscopy to help develop objective criteria for confirming the presence of dung within archaeobotanical samples. These criteria are then used to evaluate traditional interpretations of dung fuel use, wood fuel use, and agricultural processing activities within archaeobotanical samples from Southwest Asia.

Cite this Record

Dung through the Microscope: a Close-up View of Sample Origin. Alexia Smith, Lucas Proctor. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430577)


Spatial Coverage

min long: 25.225; min lat: 15.115 ; max long: 66.709; max lat: 45.583 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14873