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Institute of Archaeology

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Early Food Production

The Institute is a global leader in archaeobotany and zooarchaeology with a focus on domestication and early agriculture, and in Neolithic human demography

Rice harvesting experiment, India

Archaeobotany is the study of plant remains from archaeological sites to better understand the environmental context of past societies and how the environment was exploited and modified. Particular research emphases include diet and food procurement, whether through gathering or cultivation, and the transformation of plants and landscapes through domestication. The types of plant remains studied here include macro-remains (from seeds, wood, and parenchyma tissues) and micro-remains (especially phytoliths and starch grains).

Zooarchaeology is the study of animal remains from archaeological sites, to understand all aspects of past human-animal interaction.  Zooarchaeological research focuses on reconstructing past subsistence activities and the procurement of animal foods; past hunting and herding practices; animal domestications; animal remains as palaeoenvironmental indicators; and the role of animals in societies beyond serving as food.

Research is undertaken on European Neolithic crop and livestock complexes and Asian rice domestication in comparative perspective in collaboration with geneticists. Staff also work on the transition from hunting to herding, on early Neolithic technology and social structure, and on demographic instabilities in early farming societies, integrating stable isotopic and aDNA analyses.

The Institute has a large reference collection with an Old World emphasis. The archaeobotany laboratory is among the oldest in the UK, with teaching and research in this subject continuously since 1963. The Institute also has a historical strength in zooarchaeological research with excellent comparative collections (covering mammals from Europe and Asia) and laboratory facilities.

Projects