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Charred grain

A wide variety of animal and plant remains may be preserved in archaeological deposits. Some, such as shellfish and animal bones, can easily be seen when they occur on a particular site, but the presence of other much smaller remains such as pollen grains, seeds and insect remains may not be apparent until samples of sediment have been wet-sieved using appropriate mesh sizes. Information that can be obtained from the recovered assemblages can be wide-ranging, providing many important details of what it must actually have been like to live on a particular site, on diet, and on agriculture and the local economy. Changes in the environment caused either by natural agencies or human activity can also be documented.

Bulk sediment samples are taken during excavation of a site following a judgement based sampling strategy. As part of the excavation phase of work, biological remains and cultural material are extracted from the samples using standard methods of wet seiving with flotation. Any animal and plant remains recovered can then be assessed for their potential to produce environmental and economic data, and to address any site specific research objectives. Recommendations can then be made for analysis of selected groups of remains either by in-house staff or through established contacts with external specialists.

We can also provide:

  • Advice on sample collection and processing
  • Supplies of equipment for sampling and sample processing, including white plastic sample buckets, Tyvek labels, nylon meshes, and sodium carbonate to facilitate sediment disaggregation prior to wet sieving
  • Assessment and analysis of  invertebrate remains, especially insects

Insect assessment and analysis

Insect remains preserved in waterlogged archaeological deposits are a very useful source of information for the interpretation of ancient environments and human living conditions, particularly when analysed in conjunction with plant macrofossils.

We can provide assessments and analyses of insect remains from natural, semi-natural and urban deposits, with an emphasis on sites of Holocene date.  This would include paraffin flotation to extract insect remains from sediment samples where necessary. To date, work has been carried out for various organisations including Palaeoecological Research Services (PRS), Environmental Archaeological Consultancy, Quaternary Scientific (QUEST) at the University of Reading, Oxford Archaeology, Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA), and the University of York.

For more information please contact Enid Allison.

Equipment and facilities for insect analysis

  • Meiji stereo zoom microscope x7 – x45
  • Vickers stereo transmitted light microscope x40 – x400
  • Laboratory facilities for extraction of insect remains by paraffin flotation
  • Personal reference collection of British beetles and bugs
  • Personal library of standard reference works

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