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Assessing natural variation and the effects of charring, burial and pre-treatment on the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values of archaeobotanical cereals and pulses

Fraser, R.A.; Bogaard, A.; Charles, M.; Styring, A.K.; Wallace, M.; Jones, G.; Ditchfield, P.; Heaton, T.H.E.. 2013 Assessing natural variation and the effects of charring, burial and pre-treatment on the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values of archaeobotanical cereals and pulses. Journal of Archaeological Science, 40 (12). 4754-4766. 10.1016/j.jas.2013.01.032

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Abstract/Summary

The aim of this study is to assess the potential of charred archaeobotanical cereal grain and pulse seed δ13C and δ15N values to provide evidence of crop growing conditions and as a potential component of palaeodietary studies. In order to reliably interpret archaeobotanical δ13C and δ15N values it is necessary to take into account the impact of charring, burial and laboratory pre-treatment procedures. We examine the effects of charring and burial on bulk δ13C, δ15N, %C, %N and C:N ratios in modern cereal and pulse material, and of cleaning by acid–base–acid (ABA) pre-treatment on modern and archaeobotanical charred material. Our study utilised bulk grain and seed samples to help account for within-ear/pod and between-plant variability in δ13C and δ15N values. Heating at relatively low temperatures and for prolonged times (230 °C for up to 24 h) is conducive to the formation of well preserved, undistorted charred cereal grain and pulse seed. Heating for 24 h has a systematic and predictable effect on δ15N values, with increases of around 1‰ on average in cereal grains and pulse seeds, and no consistent impact on δ13C values. Increases in δ15N are likely due to the loss of lighter 14N via N-containing volatiles. Burial (for up to 2 years) and ABA pre-treatment have no significant effects on δ13C or δ15N values. After pre-treatment, however, the %C and %N contents of the archaeobotanical material more closely resembles that of the modern charred grains and seeds, suggesting that archaeobotanical remains accumulate non-structural material during burial but retain their original carbon and nitrogen content. Therefore %C, %N contents and C:N ratios can provide useful criteria for assessing archaeobotanical preservation.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1016/j.jas.2013.01.032
ISSN: 03054403
Date made live: 09 Jan 2014 16:44 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/504458

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