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Archaeobotany

Archaeobotany is the study of ancient plant remains. By studying this material we can find out how people used plants in the past: for food, fuel, medicine, ritual purposes or for building. We can also use plant remains to reconstruct past vegetation and the ways humans interacted with their environment

The main types of plant remains archaeobotanists work on are macrofossils (seeds, grain and fruits, chaff, tubers), charcoal and wood, and microfossils (phytoliths, pollen, starch grains). This page highlights the archaeobotanical resources and facilities available within Historic England.

Cabinets housing the English Heritage archaeobotanical reference collection. Seeds are stored in clear plastic boxes. The labels bear the accession number, the plant family and species name, the collector’s name and the taxonomic number following Stace, C New Flora of the British Isles (2nd ed), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1997
Cabinets housing the English Heritage archaeobotanical reference collection © Historic England

Our resources

We support and provide advice  to the sector and promote best practice in archaeobotanical sampling, reporting and research. We conduct and commission archaeobotanical research related to English sites.

These include regional reviews of archaeobotanical and charcoal evidence. We also coordinate the professional Archaeobotanical Working Group (AWG) and the Charcoal and Wood Work Group (CWWG).

Facilities

  • Flotation and wet-sieving facilities
  • Chemical preparation laboratories (Hydrogen fluoride standard)
  • Archaeobotanical laboratory with high and low power microscopes with digital camera attachments
  • Archaeobotanical reference collections

The archaeobotanical seed collection currently includes around 4500 specimens of seeds and fruits of mainly British species. Most are dried, with some experimentally charred items.

We also hold collections of wood and charcoal, charred tubers, mosses and slides of animal and plant fibres. We add new accessions on a regular basis.

Researchers can visit the collections by prior arrangement with Ruth Pelling. We also lend out most of our accessions. Please note that students require prior approval from their supervisor(s) prior to using the collection and close supervision is rarely possible.

You can download the seed reference collection catalogue for details of species held.

Archaeobotanical regional reviews

  • Hall, AR and Huntley, JP, A Review of the Evidence for Macrofossil Plant Remains from Archaeological Deposits in Northern England, Research Department Report Series 87/2007 (2007) 
  • Carruthers, W and Hunter K, 'A Review of Archaeological Plant Remains from the Midland Counties report' (in preparation)
  • Pelling, R, 'A Review of Archaeological Plant Remains from the Southern Region: Anglo-Saxon to Post-medieval' (in preparation)
  • Campbell, G and Pelling R, 'A Review of Archaeological Plant Remains from the Southern Region: Prehistoric and Roman' (in preparation)

Wood and charcoal regional reviews

  • Huntley JP, A Review of Wood and Charcoal Recovered from Archaeological Excavations in Northern England, Research Department Report Series 68/2010  (2010)
  • Murphy P, Review of Wood and Macroscopic Wood Charcoal from Archaeological Sites in the Midland Region, Centre for Archaeology Report 23/2001  (2001)
  • Smith, W, A Review of Archaeological Wood Analysis in Southern England, Centre for Archaeology Report 75/2002  (2002)

Who we are

Senior Archaeobotanist, Ruth Pelling (macrofossils, wood and charcoal)

Senior Palaeoecologist Zoë Hazell (wood and charcoal) and

Head of Environmental Studies Gill Campbell (macrofossils, wood and charcoal) work within the Environmental Studies Team at Fort Cumberland.

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Contact

Ruth Pelling

Senior Archaeobotanist

Fort Cumberland,
Fort Cumberland Road,
Portsmouth,
Hampshire,
P04 9LD

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Contact

Gill Campbell
Gill Campbell

Head of Environmental Studies

Fort Cumberland,
Fort Cumberland Road,
Portsmouth,
Hampshire,
P04 9LD

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Contact

Zoe Hazell
Zoë Hazell

Senior Palaeoecologist

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