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Organic residue on early Neolithic pottery from Greven-Bockholt, Germany

Botanical analysis using SEM microscope

Rapportnummer 871 | Publicatiedatum 01 december 2015
Auteur Kubiak-Martens, L.

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It is extremely challenging to determine actual prehistoric vessel use, to find out what food (or non-food) mixtures people prepared in ceramic vessels and what processing and cooking methods they used. The technique which combines botanical analysis with chemical residue analysis proved to be a successful approach in identifying original vessel contents. Each discipline uses its own highly sensitive method to identify information left in archaeological crusts.
Botanical analysis, using a scanning electron microscope (SEM), studies the anatomical features of very small fragments of plant tissues which occasionally survive the processes of food preparation, cooking and subsequent charring (e.g., fragments of cereal chaff, plant epidermis, leaf or stem tissue or starch grains). Under the SEM these tiny plant remains can be observed as being embedded in the matrix of cooked food. Not only plant components, but also meat and fish which were cooked in these prehistoric vessels, can be traced back with the help of a SEM microscope. The use of chemical analysis, such as direct temperature-resolved mass spectrometry (DTMS), makes it possible to chemically identify a broad range of organic compounds including lipids (common in fats and oils), plant waxes, terpenoids (major components of resins, pitches and tars), polysaccharides and oligosaccharides (components of sugars and starches) and protein fragments (components of meat, fish, milk products, and some seeds and nuts).
Such a combined SEM and DTMS analysis had been successfully applied earlier to a number of pottery assemblages from various archaeological sites in the Netherlands.1
For the Greven-Bockholt organic residue, the chemical direct temperature-resolved mass spectrometry (DTMS) analysis was carried out in the initial stage of the research. It was performed by Dr. Tania F.M. Oudemans of Kenaz Consult. 2 Now the botanical SEM analysis is added to the research strategy.
This report presents the results of the scanning electron microscope (SEM) analysis performed on the Greven-Bockholt residue. In this report, the results of the SEM analysis are also combined with the results of the earlier DTMS study making the reconstruction of the original vessel contents as complete as possible.

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