05 March, 2006

Food history 3: Crop processing

Understanding the taphonomy* of archaeological crop remains can allow archaeobotanists to answer specific research questions about past agrarian practices, such as whether or not crops were weeded, the time of year that they were sown, and the methods of harvesting.

Crop processing and other agrarian practices have generally been very conservative. Ethnographic observation of traditional agricultural techniques usefully suggest the kind of plant remains that can be observed in the archaeological record and thereby methods of investigate past crop production.

Crop processing models can thus explore the issues on agriculture, economic and social significance of an archaeological site, and relationships between sites.

Models of post-harvest technology have been developed for a range of crops. These involve the detailed study of present-day pre-mechanised crop husbandry practices and their effects on the composition of crop (by-) products.

Next article will introduce the preliminary ethnographic models of crop processing.

*taphonomy = the science of the laws of embedding or burial

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