Social Paleoethnobotany: New Contributions to Archaeological Theory and Practice

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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Social Perspectives on Ancient Lives from Paleoethnobotanical Data


Paleoethnobotany or archaeobotany, simply defined as the study of plant remains from archaeological sites, has become a central component of archaeological practice across the globe. Not only are its methods for the recovery and analysis of a wide range of plant remains regular elements of the most rigorous academic and contract archaeological projects today, but research agendas are increasingly informed by questions that can be answered with archaeological plant remains (Marston et al. 2015; 9-10). Although still sometimes viewed as merely a methodological specialization, paleoethnobotanists have a long history of using the data they produce to address larger questions about the human past and contribute to broader theoretical discussions in the field of archaeology (see Hastorf 1999; Marston et al. 2015; Pearsall 2015; VanDerwarker et al. 2016 for reviews of the discipline). Paeoethnobotany has contributed rather substantially to theories of the nature of human-environmental interactions and subsistence change, particularly the origins of agriculture. It has also, but in a more limited way, contributed to theories about social and political processes, especially with regard to food production and consumption among complex societies. This volume adds to the growing arena of social paleoethnobotany (Morehart and Morell-Hart 2013) with a series of papers exploring dynamic aspects of past social life, particularly the day-to-day practices and politics of procuring, preparing, and consuming plants across range of places, times, and contexts. While many of the papers bring social perspectives to the more traditional realms of paleoethnobotancal research such as defining subsistence practices and domestic activities, they also delve into topics that are still emerging within the sub-field including ritual and gender. Together, these papers shed light on ways in which the specialized analysis of plant remains can contribute to theory building and advancing archaeological understanding of past lifeways.


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