Chapter 10: Taphonomy, Experimental Archaeology, and

Chapter 11: People, Plants, and Animals in the Past
What Students Should Learn From Chapter 11
The reconstruction of past environments and diets are aided by the study of plant
and animal remains. Without environmental contexts dietary reconstructions are limited
in utility.
The study of animal remains from archaeological sites (called faunal analysis) can
give direct evidence of the species used for food, how they were harvested, and what
methods were used to butcher the animals. In addition, by using animal birthing and
tooth eruption schedules, faunal remains may help to establish the season of the year
when the site was occupied.
The remains of plants are excellent sources of data, and are usually recovered
from archaeological sites by a process called flotation.
The study of pollen (termed Palynology) is most useful in studying past regional
environments. Using pollen diagrams, palynologists can document how local and
regional vegetation has changed through time.
The nests of wood rats (pack rats) can preserve records of local environmental
change that are millennia-long.
Intact plant parts (called macrofossils) can provide direct evidence of which
plants were exploited, plant processing technology, and the season of site occupation.
These are also important to the reconstruction of paleoenvironments.
Small grains of silica (called phytoliths) that form inside plant stems can give
indications of which plant species were present at the site.
Desiccated feces, or coprolites, provide evidence of what people ate. They can be
especially useful indicators of plant and small animal consumption, and may aid in
interpreting food storage practices.
Information about plant and meat use and cooking methods can be gained from
new analytic techniques, including the analysis of lipids preserved on the interior of
ceramic vessels.
The economic basis of people’s interactions with the environment may be
frequently overlain with multiple layers of symbolic meaning.