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.
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 use ArboDat 2016 English Version© for archaeobotanical recording and data sharing and we administer the UK ArboDat user group. ArboDat 2016 English Version is the product of the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Hessen, Wiesbaden, Germany, hessenARCHÄOLOGIE/Archäeobotankik. ArboDat is currently being used by over 30 archaeobotanical laboratories in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Poland, Finland and the Czech Republic, and was introduced to British archaeobotanists in 2017. The European user group is administered by the Niedersächsisches Institut für historische Küstenforschung NIhK Wilhelmshaven
- 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)