Introduction to the Second Edition

Morphological characteristics used by paleoethnobotanists to identify archaeological plant remains are rarely illustrated or described in floristic manuals. The participants in Washington University's Advanced Paleoethnobotany Seminar, therefore, submit these illustrations and descriptions of key types of botanical specimens encountered in flotation samples from archaeological sites in eastern North America. Our laboratory guide goes into greater detail than seed reference manuals such as Delorit (1970), Delorit and Gunn (1986), Martin and Barkley (1961), Montgomery (1977), Musil (1963), and U.S.D.A. (1948), some of which are out of print or have been reprinted with inferior images. We do not attempt to duplicate basic analytical methods covered by Pearsall (2000) in her comprehensive textbook, Paleoethnobotany: A Handbook of Procedures, but we discuss issues and furnish caveats for analysts dealing with samples from eastern North America. Additional general overviews of paleoethnobotanical methods and issues have recently been published by Fritz (2005), Jacomet et al. (1999), and Sobolik (2004), and now there are useful websites with photographs of seeds from the Eastern Woodlands, including the Seed ID Workshop by the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at Ohio Stat University (http:/// and the U.S.D.A.’s electronic Woody Plant Seed Manual (

This is an ongoing, open-ended project. The initial (March, 1995) and second (April 2007) versions of our Laboratory Guide to Archaeological Plant Remains from Eastern North America include two rounds of entries; later editions will be lengthier. By distributing copies of preliminary versions, we hope to receive feedback from colleagues who can help make the manual more useful. We welcome additional contributions from members of the original teams and from others.

Each entry includes a description of a particular type of archaeobotanical material, followed by a general overview of its archaeological distribution. We do not attempt to provide detailed listings of geographical and temporal ranges, but cite recent publications that can be consulted for more thorough treatments. Each entry also includes information about the modern plant and its distribution. When relevant, the author discusses taxonomic issues and points out distinctions between wild, weedy, and domesticated morphotypes.

For botanical nomenclature and plant family circumscriptions of species occurring in Missouri, the Catalogue of the Flora of Missouri (Yatskievych and Turner 1990) is followed. If an entry includes discussion of a species not treated by Yatskievych and Turner (1990), the source of the Latin binomial is cited in the text of that entry. Because Yatskievych and Turner (1990) report numerous new names and taxonomic revisions, we frequently include–in brackets–the taxon's older designation from Steyermark (1963) or Mohlenbrock (1986).

This laboratory guide should aid archaeobotanists with varying degrees of expertise, but it is not a good starting point for beginners. There is no substitute for one-on-one training with an experienced analyst. Fragments of ancient, carbonized plant parts display considerable variability, and second or third opinions are advisable, especially when the presence of a particular species might alter archaeological interpretations. Our descriptions and illustrations can be especially useful during intermediate stages of research, after a measure of familiarity with these types of plant remains has been gained, but before the final decision making stage.

Examples of laboratory analysis forms are included in Appendix A, along with basic guidelines for students learning to sort flotation samples. These forms and guidelines have served us well when working with material from eastern North America, but methods of analysis vary from lab to lab and from project to project. Modifications are necessary to accommodate differences among types of assemblages or to ensure comparability with results reported by previous researchers.

Contributions to the first edition were made by Ksenija Borojevic, Malaina Brown, Katherine Elson, Gayle Fritz, Ken Keller, Gina Powell, Katherine Roberts, and Michele Williams.  Later entries were written by Angela Gordon, Elisabeth Hildebrand, Mac Marston, Kimberly Schaefer, and Sarah Walshaw.  We are grateful to Michael Veith for helping with scanning electron microscopy and to Elizabeth Monroe and Tab Rasmussen for lending photographic equipment.  Karla Hansen Speer and Paul French each provided an enormous amount of valuable editorial scrutiny, and Ray Yang, Paul French, and Carol Heffern can be credited with the technical expertise that brought together an integrated, digital version.  Paul French is currently making an internet website so that the guide can be accessible to anyone working on these types of archaeological plant remains.


Written by:  Gayle Fritz, Instructor and Editor