- using palynology as an archaeological tool. Archaeological Palynology has developed somewhat independently in different nations during the mid- twentieth century, so terminologies and emphases vary. Its various aspects are summarized below as

Archaeological Palynology is a branch of Archaeobotany - applying botanical and paleo-botanical techniques to archaeological investigations.

Quaternary Palynology

This branch of archaeological palynology focuses on the influence of vegetation and climate change on human behavior and demographic patterns in addition to the effect of humans on the environment. Archaeological mitigation of large construction projects often includes environmental reconstruction as a background for the chronology for human occupation of the area. A Southwestern example is the palynological reconstructions of precipitation and temperature for the Dolores Colorado region by Petersen (1988). Intensive Anasazi occupation of the area was permitted by a longer growing season and greater summer precipitation during the Medieval Warm Period (AD 1000 - 1350).
In the mid- twentieth century, pollen analysis of European Paleolithic sites often utilized cave sediments. Leroi- Gouran and Miskovski analyzed the pollen from burials, living floors, and cave fill and interpreted the pollen percentages in terms of the regional climatic chronology.


This term, used in Faegri, Kaland, and Krzywinski (1989), primarily refers to the palynological study of human impact on the environment. Pollen analysis of lakes and bogs may be used to study humans as agents of vegetation change rather than causes such as climate. Firbas (1934) and Iversen (1954) lead the development of this technique in northern Europe. The human-caused changes in pollen diagrams may be difficult to detect because the archaeological sites are small and the effects on the pollen rain to not extend far. Indicator taxa, such as cultigens (Wheat) or weeds (Plantago) are useful.
J. Iversen experimentally investigated the relationship between humans and the pollen rain by clearing a mature forest with stone-age tools, and following the development of weeds on the forest floor. These same weeds accompany the earliest wheat pollen in pollen diagrams dating to the Atlantic / Sub Boreal transition of the European Climatic Sequence. In contrast to these local effects, in the American Midwest, regional vegetation patterns were shaped by Indian-caused fires, which ceased after settlement (Grimm, 1983). The degree of vegetation disturbance reflected in the pollen rain can be used as a measure of population density or duration (annual vs. seasonal) of occupation.

Environmental Archaeology

As used here, this term refers to the study of sediments of archeological sites, particularly soils. In Britain, it is a general term for the application of palynology and other geological methods to archaeological settings. Geoffrey Dimbleby pioneered environmental archaeology in Brittain in the 1950s, particularly the pollen analysis of soil samples. He demonstrated that pollen was preserved in certain soils, and he interpreted the pollen percentages in terms of human-caused environmental change. His analyses were characterized by close-interval sampling and tens of samples per site -- standards that are seldom surpassed in contemporary studies of archaeological open sites.

Archaeological Palynology

This North American term includes the previously-mentioned topics, and some unique applications. It is characterized by the analysis of artefacts, features, and coprolites from archeological sites as well as stratigraphic study of its sediments. Archaeological palynology in North America was heavily influenced by Paul Martin and his colleagues during the 1950's and 1960's. Although his interests primarily were in the effects of climate change on the North American megafauna, his connection with the Geochronology Laboratory of the University of Arizona led to the pollen analysis of many archaeological sites in the American Southwest. The aridity of Southwest produces excellent pollen preservation in open archaeological sites and in alluvial settings. Martin recognized the power of archaeological palynology to trace the history of the domestication and cultivation of plants.

Artifact Sourcing: Martin and his students (Bohrer, Hevly) also pioneered the pollen analysis of archaeological artifacts with the "pollen wash" of ground-stone artifacts. This technique is frequently applied, but has never been rigorously investigated. It consists of analyzing the the pollen from material imbeded in an artifact. (Arendt, 2004)

Human Coprolites The superb preservation provided by southwestern aridity has allowed the detailed analysis of human dietary preferences. (Arendt, 2004)

History of Plant Domestication: Paul Martin (Martin and Schoenwetter, 1960; Schoenwetter, 1974) and his students were the first to apply palynology to the study of plant domestication in North America. Corn (Zea mays) is the most commonly found pollen of a cultigen, squash and cotton (but not bean) also occur - as do “incipient cultigens“ such as Agave, Cleome, Opuntia, and the abundant pollen of various “weeds.“ The foods and fibers upon which civilization is based were first selected and cultivated by humans in the early Holocene. Early examples are wheat in the Near East and squash in Central America. Cotton remains an abominable mystery. It's domestication having occurred twice (?) in Egypt and Arizona. (Arendt, 2004)


Archaeology: The study of the history of human behavior based on remains such as bones and stone tools.

Coprolites: feces "fossils." Typically these are preserved in arid environments such as as dry caves or sand dunes.

European Environmental Sequence And Archaeological Equivalents





0 - 2500 yr

Sub Atlantic

Iron Age

Historic & Ceramic

- 5000yr

Sub Boreal

Bronze Age & Neolithic


- 8000yr




- 10,000yr




- 11,000yr

Younger Dryas



Holocene: the last 10,000 years -- Boreal to Sub Atlantic, above.

Owen Davis 2/99