Pollen Online

Archaeobotany Collections

The aim of the ELDG-funded project was to produce an online digital archive with images of pollen grains of northern European species that can be used both as a reference and teaching tool. Modern and ancient pollen is used for the interpretation and reconstruction of vegetation landscapes and pollen analysis is used widely in many disciplines, most commonly in Biology, Environmental Sciences, Forensic Science and Archaeology. The compilation of reference collections of known plant species is vital in order to be able to compare pollen that has been preserved in various substrates (e.g., soils, lake sediments, archaeological deposits, etc.). Familiarisation with the morphologies of pollen types involves high magnification scanning of pollen grains that are mounted on microscope slides. Differentiation between closely related species or genera on the basis of overall size and shape, surface ornamentation, pore structure, etc., is necessary prior to being able to identify and thus make interpretations about the vegetation landscapes from which modern or ancient pollen taxa derived.

The online digital archive of pollen images will be available for use by students in the Institute of Archaeology and also other UCL departments in preparation for, or revision after, lab-based practical sessions and lectures. The hope is that it will also serve to draw to the attention of scholars outside UCL the extensive and unique collection of botanical reference material housed at the Institute of Archaeology.

Currently housed in the Institute of Archaeology are approximately 800 pollen reference slides. Most of the collection was prepared by the departmental technician Mr Phillip Porter when Professor Geoffrey Dimbleby was Chair of Human Environment at the Institute, from1964 to 1979. Professor Dimbleby promoted the teaching of archaeobotany in the department and his pioneering work on soil pollen analysis necessitated a comprehensive reference collection of British and European species (see brief account of work in the department in Archaeology International 1998/9: 9-10).

The collection includes slides of 706 species (covering 110 plant families) common to northern Europe (a majority are wild taxa, with a few domestic crops). So far 168 species from 60 families have been photographed.

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