BY JUNAID SHAFI BHAT
Archaeobotany is the complementary discipline of archaeology; it provides aids to understand man-land relationships of prehistoric times.
The archaeobotanist identifies wild and domesticated plants, investigates origins of domestication of plants and traces the progress made in ancient agricultural practices.
Archaeobotany deals with the origins of plant domestication based on the recovery of plant remains from archaeological contexts, their identification in the laboratory followed by processual interpretation of culture change as well as morphological changes in cultivated plants.
Morphological changes in plants are attributed to adaptations to system of cultivation and human harvesting. It combines botanical knowledge with archaeological materials.
Botanical remains include two broad categories of evidence-Macroscopic and Microscopic, seeds ,woods, parenchyme tissue, and plant impression; these are macroscopic. The microscopic remains are pollens, phytoliths and diatoms and palaofaces (coprolits).
Archaeobotanists analyze and interpret
the plant remains that come
out of archaeological site from both
the reproductive parts and the wood
charcoal. It tells a story about human
plant interactions in the past (paleoethnobotany).
We can learn different things from
the archaeological plant record, for
example, if a group was intensively
farming and relying very heavily on
corn beans and squash or whether,
they had a nice mixed diet.
We can learn things about wood
use such as common woods that people
were bringing in for fires to cook
their food and keep warm. We can
track whether they were using those
and resources up over time.
The archaeobotanical study can also
be employed in depicting the origin and
history of agriculture. Human efforts to
animate for a comfortable life and evolution
from food gathering to food producing
is also depicted through the study of
ancient plant remains.
The plant remains and archaeological
sites are primarily acquired
through a process called flotation, so
archaeobotanists take flotation samples(
basically dirt samples) and they
are put in water and the plant parts
in the samples float on the surface of
the water, then they are skimmed off
and saved which is what archaeobotanists
look under the microscope.
The samples with the best information
are the result of accidental burning
The events of the earliest cultivation
by man could be depicted
through pollen analysis of lake and
swamp by taking core samples. Such
studies in Kashmir at Haigam Lake
and Anchar Lake trace the beginnings
of agriculture in the valley to
4000 years BP. The earliest evidence
of agriculture in India dates back to
7000-8000 years BP.
Kashmir valley is unique in respect
of changes that have taken
place in vegetation and climate in
the late Cenozoic times. The record of
past vegetation of Kashmir has been
obtained through palaeobotanic and
palynological studies of the Karewa
sediments. The evidence of the vegetation
of Kashmir during pliocene
has come from the investigation at
Dubjan and Hirpur localities in the
Karewa series (Agrawal 1985).The
records of pleistocene vegetative of
Kashmir have come from sites like
Laredura, Liddarmarg, Pakharpura,
Khaigam and so on
There were so many agricultural
crop remains recovered from occupation
at Burzahom in various phases. Cereals,
a pulse, some horticultural crops, weed
seeds have been recovered from Burzahom
(Neolithic I) are extremely interesting.
The megalithic period at Burzahom
is characterized by the introduction of
rice. At Semthan(3500-2600YBP), the
main plant assemblages recovered above
natural soil are rice, barley, and wheat.
During the neolithic I era, the inhabitants
of Burzahom practiced single cropping
system of agriculture( that is, they
were growing winter crops only). The
introduction of rice both at Burzahom
and Semthan indicates a change in food
habits and suggests that the inhabitants
were advanced in terms of agriculture
because rice requires a good amount of
water for optimal growth.
So we can say that people were very
smart and astute observers of their environment
and they had a broad-based
diet of both plants they grew in their
fields and wild plants that they utilized.
They brought nutrition and vitamins
and minerals to the table. They
also brought enough calories for their
people to have children and be able to
stay on the landscape.
In a nutshell, Archaeobotany focuses
on the study of preserved plant
evidence from archaeological sites
and the reconstruction and interpretation
of past human-plant relationships.
More excavations and pollen
analysis are needed in order to know
the human-plant interactions.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]