Clarion House in Roughlee, Lancashire, provided a superb setting for introducing 10 enthusiasts of archaeology to the discipline’s botanic side. Not only was there a meadow bordered by hedges, an adjoining woodland and a pond which we could explore for specimens, we also had to search for sockets to power our microscopes’ lightbulbs.
We unravelled archaeobotany without the need for computer, projector and screen. Interspersed by short lectures on the four principal plant remains: charcoal, pollen, seeds and phytoliths, we concentrated on examining flora out under the September sun or magnified up to 400 times over the microscope’s lenses.
Pollen was shaken out of flowers onto glass microscope slides. When a droplet of water was introduced, they swam about, presented all their texture and surface patterns, and introduced us to Brownian motion. Participants were exhilarated at observing other organisms living in our water and on the flowers, although some had difficulty focussing on the tiny (20 – 50 µm diameter) pollen grains.
The collected seeds and fruits were also examined with low powered microscopes. Modern dock nutlets were compared with archaeological specimens from the Iron Age. Characteristics for distinguishing barley, oats and wheat learnt and tested with early medieval specimens and NAA’s reference collection. Trying to steer away from the scholarly mires of interpretation and socio-economic determinism we discussed agrarian and pastoral regimes. The surrounding landscape and settlement pattern, with its diverse vegetation and environmental settings, presented more opportunities for thought exchange and wonder.
Slowly wrapping the session up, we admired the intricacies of wood anatomy by observing the grain and character of a fine beech bench and began the long path of charcoal identification.
NAA are working with the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership to deliver a series of archaeology workshops and events that are aimed at supporting and developing the archaeological skills of the local community in Lancashire. If you would like to find out more and how to get involved, please click here.