Archaeological Residue and Starch Analysis: Interpretation and Taphonomy

01st June 2008

Michael Haslam

PhD, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, November 2006

Microscopic analyses of artefact residues and sediment microfossils follow a sequence of sample selection, observation, description, identification and interpretation. Each of these stages requires separate, but inter-related, methodologies contributing to the eventual published or disseminated results. Archaeologists are increasingly using residue and microfossil identifications and interpretations to discuss artefact function and site development, making inferences about past subsistence and other activities that in turn impact on broader debates about past economic and social practices. It is the contention of this thesis that the stages of archaeological microscopic analysis themselves require closer examination, as a means of assessing and progressing the viability of reconstructions drawn by residue and microfossil analysts. In particular, three components are examined: identification, taphonomy, and the underlying theoretical framework of residue and microfossil interpretation. These components are investigated using light microscopic analysis of ancient starch and stone tool residues, with a focus on research conducted, and by researchers based, in the Australasian region.

A selection of published peer-reviewed papers forms the central chapters of the thesis. These studies investigate archaeological starch identification and misidentification, ancient starch taphonomy (including decomposition, preservation and movement through sediments) and the value of social archaeological theory in archaeological stone tool residue analysis. The roles of analytical scale and narrative presentation are explored as one way of coming to terms with, and communicating the findings of, typically small-scale analyses that record the results of very specific past actions. Original introductory and concluding chapters contextualise the research within current and past trends in microscopic residue and microfossil interpretation. This discussion includes the influence of sample sizes over the validity of stone tool residue analyses and the place of quantitative and qualitative approaches to archaeological sediment starch studies. Outcomes of the project include an emphasis on understanding taphonomic transformation of recovered residue and microfossil assemblages, recognition of the role played by identification in subsequent interpretation, and the contribution of an alternate theoretical and methodological framework for interpreting microscopic residues on stone artefacts.

Michael Haslam
Archaeological Residue and Starch Analysis: Interpretation and Taphonomy
June 2008
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Thesis Abstracts
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