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Bioarchaeological Sampling and Archaeobotany

 Since the beginning of the excavations at Sissi in 2007 soil samples have been taken from all zones for the investigation of bioarchaeological remains, including seeds, charcoal, molluscs, fish and animal bones. The aim has been to recover with rigorous methods soil samples from all excavation contexts to allow investigation of the spatial distribution of these types of material, which in combination with other archaeological data, can illuminate aspects of diet, agriculture, economy, trade and social organisation throughout the site’s occupation history.

All bioarchaeological samples were processed by flotation (Figure 1) under the supervision of Dr Quentin Letesson in 2007, Miss Stavroula Micha in 2008 and Dr Alexandra Livarda from 2009 to 2011, with the assistance of Miss Dani DeCarle in 2011. Light ecofacts are collected in a stack of two sieves, the smallest aperture of which is 0.3mm, while other heavier ones as well as small finds are collected in a 1mm mesh. This ensures the collection of really small material, such as the seeds of several wild plants, that is often invisible to the naked eye. Once dry, the different types of material are distributed to the relevant specialists.


flotation at Sissi (picture provided by V. Isaakidou)


Archaeobotany, the study of plant macroremains, involves sorting and identification of all plants and plant parts under a stereoscope with the aid of modern reference material and atlases, according to established morphological criteria. At Sissi, during the 2007-11 excavation cycle 985 archaeobotanical samples were collected, with a substantial spatial coverage of the excavated Boufos hill.  Initial processing and scanning of the samples during the field seasons points to a wide array of plant resources that were used by the Bronze Age inhabitants. Of particular interest seem to be the archaeobotanical finds in Zone 4, concentrated in three main areas. The first is room 4.9 and its associated drain that was possibly a pantry/storage area of the Late Minoan period (LM III), according to the data provided by Dr Quentin Letesson, who is in charge of excavations in this zone. Barley, wheat, lentil, vetches and other legumes, as well as various fruits and nuts were found in this area among fish, shell and animal bone remains, and several ceramic vessels. The second is a destruction layer in Space 4.19 also of Late Minoan date (probably LM IB) that yielded a vessel full of carbonised pulses. Finally, another large concentration of pulses was unearthed in yet another Late Minoan (LM IIB) room, Room 4.15. On the basis of these results Zone 4 has been prioritised for archaeobotanical investigation. Close collaboration between the site archaeologists and all bioarchaeologists is scheduled for the following study seasons that will allow useful insights into the prehistoric past of Sissi.

Dr Alexandra Livarda,
University of Nottingham