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Palaeo-ecology

Palaeo-ecology

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Palaeo-ecology is the study of physical environments in antiquity. For obvious reasons, this is often in some way an integral part of survey projects. The main goal of palaeo-ecology in survey archaeology is to reconstruct the physical landscape relating to the archaeological landscape in its different phases. Palaeo-ecological studies comprise a broad range of disciplines, such as archaeo-botany (e.g. palynology: the study of pollen), zoö-archaeology or palaeo-climatology, but, because of the inherently superficial dataset of survey archaeology, the most important one for this wiki is geomorphology, and its sub-set sedimentology.

Techniques used to study the general geomorphological characteristics of a survey area obviously start by looking at existing geological and sedimentological maps , but also include some basic fieldwork methods, such as coring. Geo-archaeologists drill small holes throughout the landscape, using a simple auger, not only to map the sedimentary build-up of the area, but also to check the possibility of a buried archaeological landscape (see post-depositional processes).

Results from cartographical research and geomorphological fieldwork can be plotted on the map of the survey area using GIS. This offers the possibility of comparing the archaeological and sedimentological data, in order to understand if and how post-depositional processes (e.g. erosion) might have affected the archaeological landscape.

Bibliography and further reading

Dincauze, D., 2000, Environmental Archaeology, Cambridge.

Evans, J. & T. O’Connor, 1999, Environmental Archaeology, Stroud.

Rapp, G. & C. Hill, 1998, Geoarchaeology: The Earth-Science Approach to Archaeological Interpretation, New Haven & London.

Research topics: Survey Methodology