Plant Macrofossil Laboratory

How can archaeobotanical analyses be used?

Botanical macrofossil analyses can be used to investigate many aspects of the past, but the emphasis falls in two main areas - the utilisation of plant resources and interaction with the vegetation by past human populations one the one hand, and the various processes and factors leading to the formation of the individual deposits on the other. In a small excavation field a typical task would involve determining how a series of layers had been formed, or the function of a particular feature such as a pit. In a broader context, for example at the settlement level, the exploitation of plant resources and the role of crops and agrarian practices in basic economy and daily life would also be in focus. Adopting an even broader approach attempts can be made to follow the development of the cultural landscape and the vegetation, and the general interplay between man and the environment.

Danish archaeobotany can now look back on a century of professional research during which very important pioneering work has been done and a solid foundation has been created for the future. Against the background of the data collected during these years it is now possible to begin to compare and contrast results in both time and space. This has recently been done for the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Southern Scandinavia (Robinson 2003) and for the Middle Ages (Karg 2007).
      In recent decades aims and priorities have gradually changed in tune with general developments at the interface between archaeology and the natural and physical sciences. The primary goal in archaeobotany has been to make analyses more systematic, problem-oriented and, at the same time, subtler in their approach. At a practical level the aim has been to integrate archaeobotanical analyses into general archaeological practice and research. As early as the planning phase it is necessary to decide, from both an archaeobotanical and an archaeological point of view, whether and how such analyses can contribute to our understanding of the situation at a given excavation. During the actual excavation work it is also important to maintain close contacts between excavator and archaeo-botanist, so that the excavation and sampling strategy can be adjusted in the light of the analytical results that emerge along the way.
      The funding authorities have to a certain extent shown, in statements and through their financial priorities, that they support such a development. The publication of this overview is also proof that archaeobotanical investigations have become better integrated in Danish archaeology, largely as a result of smoothly functioning co-operation with a number of the country’s provincial museums.