An improved methodology for the recovery of Zea mays and other large crop pollen, with implications for environmental archaeology in the Neotropics

Bronwen Whitney, Elizabeth Rushton, John F. Carson, José Iriarte, Francis Mayle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We present a simple sieving methodology to aid the recovery of large cultigen pollen grains, such as maize (Zea mays L.), manioc (Manihot esculenta Crantz), and sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas L.), among others, for the detection of food production using fossil pollen analysis of lake sediments in the tropical Americas. The new methodology was tested on three large study lakes located next to known and/or excavated pre-Columbian archaeological sites in South and Central America. Five paired samples, one treated by sieving, the other prepared using standard methodology, were compared for each of the three sites. Using the new methodology, chemically digested sediment samples were passed through a 53 µm sieve, and the residue was retained, mounted in silicone oil, and counted for large cultigen pollen grains. The filtrate was mounted and analysed for pollen according to standard palynological procedures. Zea mays (L.) was recovered from the sediments of all three study lakes using the sieving technique, where no cultigen pollen had been previously recorded using the standard methodology. Confidence intervals demonstrate there is no significant difference in pollen assemblages between the sieved versus unsieved samples. Equal numbers of exotic Lycopodium spores added to both the filtrate and residue of the sieved samples allow for direct comparison of cultigen pollen abundance with the standard terrestrial pollen count. Our technique enables the isolation and rapid scanning for maize and other cultigen pollen in lake sediments, which, in conjunction with charcoal and pollen records, is key to determining land-use patterns and the environmental impact of pre-Columbian societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1087-1096
JournalThe Holocene
Volume22
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2012

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