This article has provided a brief review of the current state of the discipline of archaeobotany, focusing on the study of plant macrofossils in Britain. Archaeobotany is arguably now a mature discipline, but one that is facing challenges relating to data and communication. Rather than dwell on the limitations and problems in current field and laboratory analysis, five areas have been discussed in which it is considered that archaeobotany can advance to become a more accessible, usable and engaged field within archaeology, and beyond.
Two key contrasts have developed throughout this review. The first concerns the difference between the state of archaeobotany in the Americas and in Britain. In the former, the discipline is seen as thriving (Killick 2015, 245), and numerous critical reviews have recently appeared. The success of palaeoethnobotany has been attributed to the existence of excellent text books, in the forms of Current Palaeoethnobotany and Palaeoethnobotany, and receptiveness to multiple theoretical directions (VanDerwarker et al. 2016). Furthermore, higher proportions of specialists were trained initially as archaeologists, rather than plant scientists or botanists (Miller 2011), and palaeoethnobotanical sessions are held within the central SAA conference, which enable archaeobotanical discussions to be situated within the broader field. In contrast, the discipline as practised in Britain is lacking a fit-for-purpose (English language) text book, conference sessions tend to occur at specialist locations, such as the IWGP or Association for Environmental Archaeology conferences, and a reverse trend in specialist training is observed (Miller 2011). These are areas that archaeobotany should consider for further development.
Second, a contrast between zooarchaeology and archaeobotany has been established. The former is considered to be at the forefront of digital analysis (Cooper and Green 2016), is theoretically engaged, and is working on wider societal issues such as invasive species, extinctions and food sustainability (e.g. O'Connor and Sykes 2010). Given the advance of recent reviews beyond the core areas of methodological discussion (Marston et al. 2014a), it is hoped that aspects such as data archiving, communication, the use of digital resources and theoretical debates can also grow as topics of discussion within the archaeobotanical community. If archaeobotany is to continue to have a key role in academic and developer-funded archaeology, it is vital that steps are taken to improve the communication of archaeobotanical research, and increase its accessibility to non-specialists. If not, then plants will continue to be side-lined within archaeological discourse.
Cite this as: Lodwick, L. 2019 Agendas for Archaeobotany in the 21st Century: data, dissemination and new directions, Internet Archaeology 53. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.53.7
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