ANTH 2600: Microscopy in Applied Archaeobotany Research

Archaeobotany, the study of plant use in antiquity, is an inherently interdisciplinary sub-field of archaeology that integrates botany, ecology, archaeology, and social theory to explore a wide range of topics including: 1) the nature, timing, and cause of plant domestication events around the world; 2) the social and environmental dynamics and causes of the transition from hunting-and-gathering to early agriculture; 3) the role that plant-based agriculture, viticulture, or irrigation played in the emergence and collapse of early social complexity, social hierarchies, and the development of the first cities; 4) the ways in which farmers modified plant-based agriculture to suit prevailing environmental conditions and social and economic needs; and 5) the choices that people made in the past to select and procure fuel in order to sustain everyday household activities and emerging craft specializations and industries.

This course integrates lectures on current and emerging trends in archaeobotanical research with hands-on instruction in the use of a range of lab equipment, microscopy, and digital imaging tools commonly found in many labs to address the topics listed above. These tools include: 1) botanical reference material; 2) analytical balances; 3) a muffle furnace; 4) student binocular microscopes; 5) an upright materials microscope with transmitted, incident, and polarized light; and 6) a confocal microscope with NIS Elements imaging software. Hands-on instruction is also provided in the use of a Jeol NeoScope JCM 6000Plus benchtop scanning electron microscope with Energy Dispersive X-Ray Spectroscopy capabilities for elemental mapping. Throughout the course, students actively engage in the research process by using the tools learned in class to design and conduct an individualized research project (selected from a list provided in class).