Archaeobotanists study ancient plant material in soil samples collected from archaeological dig sites. The process is very meticulous and each sample taken can be traced back to the exact spot in the dig that it originated from and even to the particular field archaeologist who dug it. This allows for cross-checking of information and incredibly detailed analysis of the site.
The infographic below illustrates the journey a Ҫatalhöyük soil sample takes from the dig site to analysis in a laboratory. Ҫatalhöyük is pretty unique in that the specialist laboratories are on the same site as the dig, enabling the quick processing of samples. Results are then shared and discussed with colleagues, building up a more complete picture of what life was like for the inhabitants of Ҫatalhöyük around 9000 years ago.
Using the process illustrated above, plant remains including tubers, nuts, fruit and grain have been identified at Ҫatalhöyük, the latter being stored in large, earthenware pots inside the home. Analysing the charcoal remains from hearth areas provides information on the type and size of the fuelwood burnt – in this case mostly elm, oak and juniper. This information can be used to tell us about the kind of diets enjoyed by the people and animals living at Ҫatalhöyük, the type of environment that surrounded the settlement and any changes that took place to these over time.
Working as part of a team of experts including specialists in human remains, animal remains, lithics (stone), clay and object conservation, archaeobotanists help to create a rich and detailed picture of a site’s past inhabitants and the lives they led.