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Sample essay topic, essay writing: Phytoliths And Archaeology; An Amazing Field That Never Gained Popularity (with Good Reason) - 1546 words

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.. ntrol must be placed on the site, and other forms of analysis (ie Pollen Analysis) must be used to strengthen and supplement the evidence. Pearsall and Trimble also felt that the use of modern comparative aids was also a necessity. Despite the fact that the evidence found by Pearsall and Trimble was direct and useful, it could not have been found by the mere use of phytolith analysis. Pearsall and Trimble had to collect various comparative collections from modern and ancient vegetation zones in order to have confidence in the phytolith analysis. Likewise, they also used other forms of analysis (soil analysis, pollen analysis, absolute dating methods), to supplement their phytolith findings. Pearsall and Trimble did prove that phytoliths are an amazing source of information and evidence, but at the same time they illustrated the fact that phytoliths alone cannot be counted on for accurate and concise information.In 1985, Piperno came to a similar conclusion. Piperno had been studying four sites in Panama, dating as far back as 6610 BCE to as recent as 1520 CE (Piperno 1985: #4, 250). Throughout his study, Piperno found maize, bamboo and other forms of phytoliths that were not represented in the comparative chronology. He concluded that differences in percentages, ratios and frequencies of phytoliths found in site could possibly indicate different functional roles of the plants recovered, changes in plant use, or different plant cultivation in different areas of the site (Piperno 1985: #4, 250).

As a result of his findings he came to various conclusions about the set backs of phytolith analysis. Piperno, like Pearsall and Trimble, realized that one could not be fully confident of information and evidence acquired through the use of phytoliths alone; likewise, early food production (methods) could not be reconstructed by merely the use of phytolith analysis (Piperno 1985: #4, 262). This was because phyoliths only gave a small view of plant exploitation. Piperno's study was able to indicate that maize, squash and beans had been present in Panama since 300 BCE. Despite the fact that he was able to ascertain this date, Piperno was not confident in his evidence

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He felt that the use of phyoliths alone was not concrete enough to actually prove the date he acquired. Mulholland came to a similar conclusion when studying the shape and frequencies of grasses in North Dakota. Mulholland concluded that in order to avoid large scale generalization and for the examination of phytolith fossils to be accurate there would have to be an extensive study of modern species to create precise references (Mulholland 1989: #5, 489).Agriculture was also an important component in diet. The diet of cultures as well as the livestock they reared can be identified through the use of phytolith study. Powers, Padmore and Gilbertson in 1989 conducted a study concerning the living areas of human occupation. Aside from finding that phytoliths tended to be concentrated in this area due to the use of plant materials for sleeping mats and other 'household' needs, Powers, Padmore and Gilbertson came to the conclusion that it was possible to identify faecal remains through the use of phytolith analysis as well as phytolith concentration (Powers, Padmore and Gilbertson 1989: # 1, 42).

Further to this there is another problem with analysing fecal remains for phytoliths. In many species of animals (particularly feral herbivores), the phytoliths would pass through the digestive tract and be excreted (with phytoliths in tact) a fair distance away from the source of the flora ingested (Schiffer 1983: 236). This is another matter that could also cause errors in information gathered from phytoliths.Prior to Powers, Padmore and Gilbertson, Armitage in 1975 had conducted an experiment in order to find the diet of cattle recovered from archaeological sites. He used the mandibles from four different cattle each from a different period, some as early as the Late Bronze Age and some as recent as 1500CE (Armitage 1975: #3, 187). Armitage washed the teeth thoroughly to ensure that there was no contamination from phytoliths contained in soil that was still on the skeletal remains, it was also to ensure that the phytoliths found would only be from residual food on the teeth.

On the one mandible Armitage found a large amount of soil particles, he concluded that this could have been the result of the animal being pasteurized (Armitage 1975: #3, 193). Armitage did run into problems during his study. He found it extremely hard to idenitify what types of grasses the cattle had eaten during their lifespan. As mentioned earlier in this paper, Armitage concluded that several grass types do not contain silica that is unique to particular kinds of species, from this he concluded that a large reference collection would be required in order to accurately identify what types of grasses the cattle had been eating (Armitage 1975: #3, 194). Studies of human dental remains have also been carried out.In 1994, Fox and Perez-Perez directed at study designed to obtain direct evidence concerning the diet of past cultures. In order to conduct this experiement, they used human dental remains, a scanning electron microscope (to see and count phytoliths), and phytolith analysis. They studied the dental remains of seven individuals from the Mediaeval site of La Olmeda (Spain) from the 7th and 13th centuries CE (Fox and Perez-Perez 1994: #1, 30). Fox and Perez-Perez looked at scratches in the enamel of the teeth left by silica and counted and identified phytolith remains. From these they were able to identify various cereal phytoliths such as Gramineae ('panic-grass') and millet (used to make bread) (Fox and Perez-Perez 1994: #1, 30).

Fox and Perez-Perez had to use large reference collections for comparative analysis in order to identify the phytoliths on the teeth, a difficult and tedious process. Despite their findings, Fox and Perez-Perez encountered problems with phytolith analysis. Firstly, they discovered a problem with the scratches on the enamel that they had believed was caused by silica in phytolith remains. They discovered that these scratches were not a mere characteristic of silica, but that carnivores could have these scratches too; the Inuit culture (which is primarily carnivorous) still had scratches on their teeth, this was considered to be a result of cleaning, cooking or preservation of food (Fox and Perez-Perez 1994: #1, 33). Similarly, Fox and Perez-Perez encountered a problem that many other archaeologists have dealt with, a lack of information on phytoliths. Fox and Perez-Perez realized that phytoliths from the Mediterranean area (in which they were conducting their study) were not easily identifiable or unique, except for certain cereals (Fox and Perez-Perez 1994: #1, 33).

With a lack of many phytoliths in their reference collection, many of the phytoliths found were unidentifiable. Despite the vast amount of evidence and information that phytoliths can provide, the field had never gained much popularity. Phytoliths can give direct evidence as to what types of crops were being exploited, what types of agricultural technology was available to a culture, what wind patterns, heat or humidity were like at a certain period of time, even what kinds of food were available for humans or livestock. Analysing phytoliths can be an enormously tedious process. Despite the fact that nearly an century has elapsed since the usefulness of phytoliths were discovered, little has been done to improve the study, currently even the usefulness of reference collections is lacking.

Often phytoliths have to be used in conjunction with other methods of dating or analysis, ranging from pollen analysis to radiocarbon dating. With the amount of cross referencing, control over the site, and labour hours in studying phytoliths, it does almost seem like more effort than it is worth. It is amazing that such a field with such direct and useful evidence and information has essentially laid in stagnation since the time it was discovered. However, as most cases may be, it is probably more time efficient, cost effective, and less problematic to seek out other forms of analysis for similar information yields.Works CitedArmitage, Philip L.1975 The Extraction and Identification of Phytoliths from the Teeth of Ungluates. The Journal of Archaeological Science 2 (3): 187-193.Brown, D.A.1984 Prospects and Limits of a Phytolith Key for Grasses in the Central United States. The Journal of Archaeological Science 11 (4): 330-346.Fox, C.

Lalueza, and A. Perez-Perez.1994 Dietary Information Through the Examination of Plant Phytoliths on the Enamel Surface of Human Dentition. The Journal of Archaeological Science 21 (1): 29-33.Herz, Norman and Ervan G. Garrison.1998 Geological Methods For Archaeology. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Mulholland, Susan C.1989 Phytolith Shape Frequencies in North Dakota Grasses: A Comparison to General Patterns. The Journal of Archaeological Science 16 (5): 489-501.Pearsall, D.M., and M.K. Trimble.1984 Identifying Past Agricultural Activity Through Soil Phytolith Analysis: A Case Study from the Hawaiian Islands.

The Journal of Archaeological Science 11 (2): 119-131.Piperno, Dolores R.1985 Phytolith Taphonomy and Distributions in Archaeological Sediments from Panama. The Journal of Archaeological Science 12 (4): 250-264.Piperno, Dolores R., and Deborah M. Pearsall.1993 Phytoliths in the Reproductive Structures of Maize and Teosinte: Implications for the Study of Maize Evolution. The Journal of Archaeological Science 20 (3): 337-342.Powers, A.H, J. Padmore, and D.D Gilbertson.1989 Studies of Late Prehistoric and Modern Opal Phytoliths from Coastal Sand Dunes and Machair in Northwest Britain. The Journal of Archaeological Science 16 (1) : 27-42.Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn.2004 Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice.

4th ed. Thames and Hudson Ltd., London.Rip (Rapp), George Jr., and Christopher L. Hill.1998 Geoarchaeology: The Earth-Science Approach to Archaeological Interpretation. Yale University Press, USA.Schiffer, Michael B. (editor)1983 Advances in ARCHAEOLOGICAL METHOD AND PRACTICE vol.

6. Academic Press, New York.

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