Human impact around settlement sites: A phytolith and mineralogical study for assessing site boundaries, phytolith preservation, and implications for spatial reconstructions using plant remains

Dan Cabanes, Yuval Gadot, Maite Cabanes, Israel Finkelstein, Steve Weiner, Ruth Shahack-Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations

Abstract

Defining the extent of human activity around settlement sites is of particular significance in archaeology as it may define peripheral activity areas and thus the site's boundary. In Near Eastern archaeology, site boundaries are usually defined by the presence of architectural and other macroscopic archaeological remains. Here we use the phytolith concentrations and morphotype assemblages, as well as changes in the mineralogical composition of the sediments in and around the small Iron Age site of Izbet Sartah in central Israel to determine the site boundaries. The site has a shallow stratigraphy and highly bioturbated sediments. Coincidental changes in the clay/quartz ratio and phytolith concentrations define the boundary between high and low impact anthropogenic activities. This boundary is generally some 20 m away from the architectural remains. In addition, we note that the phytoliths in the site's core show clear evidence of having been affected by chemical dissolution (i.e., diagenesis), while those in the vicinity of the site's boundary have undergone severe diagenesis. These observations indicate that phytolith diagenesis will affect site boundaries determination, as well as phytolith-based reconstructions of activity areas. We propose that phytolith preservation depends on the initial amount of available silica, the depth of burial with respect to the active root area of modern vegetation, and the presence of fresh phytoliths in the soil.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2697-2705
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Volume39
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the European Research Council under the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/ERC grant agreement n° 229418 . Dan Cabanes's postdoctoral fellowship is funded by the Beatriu de Pinós program (Departament d'Universitats, Recerca i Societat de la Informació de la Generalitat de Catalunya). Dan Cabanes, Steve Weiner and Ruth Shahack-Gross are members of the Research Group for Palaeoecological and Geoarchaeological Studies (GEPEG). Permit for the excavation at Izbet Sartah was granted by the Israel Antiquities Authority , license number G-53/2009 . We would like to thank the following for their invaluable help: Shirly Avian Ben-Dor (logistics), Boaz Gross (excavation supervisor), Roni Zuckerman (field registration), Pavel Shrago (photography), Alexander Pechuro (surveying) and Sky view (air photography). We would also like to thank the many volunteers who joined us at the field.

Keywords

  • Archaeological site boundaries
  • Izbet Sartah
  • Phytolith diagenesis
  • Phytolith variation index
  • Rural Iron Age

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