An improved methodology for the recovery of Zea mays and other large crop pollen, with implications for environmental archaeology in the Neotropics

Whitney, Bronwen, Rushton, Elizabeth, Carson, John F., Iriarte, José and Mayle, Francis (2012) An improved methodology for the recovery of Zea mays and other large crop pollen, with implications for environmental archaeology in the Neotropics. The Holocene, 22 (10). pp. 1087-1096. ISSN 0959-6836

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We present a simple sieving methodology to aid the recovery of large cultigen pollen grains, such as maize (Zea mays L.), manioc (Manihot esculenta Crantz), and sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas L.), among others, for the detection of food production using fossil pollen analysis of lake sediments in the tropical Americas. The new methodology was tested on three large study lakes located next to known and/or excavated pre-Columbian archaeological sites in South and Central America. Five paired samples, one treated by sieving, the other prepared using standard methodology, were compared for each of the three sites. Using the new methodology, chemically digested sediment samples were passed through a 53 µm sieve, and the residue was retained, mounted in silicone oil, and counted for large cultigen pollen grains. The filtrate was mounted and analysed for pollen according to standard palynological procedures. Zea mays (L.) was recovered from the sediments of all three study lakes using the sieving technique, where no cultigen pollen had been previously recorded using the standard methodology. Confidence intervals demonstrate there is no significant difference in pollen assemblages between the sieved versus unsieved samples. Equal numbers of exotic Lycopodium spores added to both the filtrate and residue of the sieved samples allow for direct comparison of cultigen pollen abundance with the standard terrestrial pollen count. Our technique enables the isolation and rapid scanning for maize and other cultigen pollen in lake sediments, which, in conjunction with charcoal and pollen records, is key to determining land-use patterns and the environmental impact of pre-Columbian societies.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: cultigen pollen, palynology, pollen preparation techniques, pre-Columbian agriculture, pre-Columbian archaeology, Zea mays
Subjects: C200 Botany
F400 Forensic and Archaeological Science
F800 Physical and Terrestrial Geographical and Environmental Sciences
Department: Faculties > Engineering and Environment > Geography and Environmental Sciences
Depositing User: Bronwen Whitney
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2015 12:17
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2019 22:30

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