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Ancient Plant Diet At Farmana: A Starch Grain Perspective

Investigators
Weber, Steven A; Kashyap, Arunima
Institutions
Washington State University
Start date
2009
End date
2010
Abstract

With the National Science Foundation support, Drs. Steve Weber and Arunima Kashyap will use starch grain analysis to better understand plant processing and dietary practices within the Indus civilization. Knowledge of plant use to date in this region is based on macro-botanical record preserved through carbonization. Direct evidence, whether recovered from human remains or the surfaces of implements used for food processing, cooking, serving and storage, is significantly limited or missing from analysis. This project will address these issues by collecting and analyzing starch grains extracted from the calculus of human teeth, stone tools, and pottery vessels. The Harappan site of Farmana, located in Haryana, India offers a unique opportunity to carry out such a study. Its size, length of occupation (3500 to 2000 B.C.), extensive structural and material remains, and the recently identified cemetery make it one of the most important Harappan sites in the region. During the 2008 and 2009 excavation seasons, samples were collected from stone tools, pottery vessels and human teeth. With support from the National Science Foundation, these samples will be processed and examined microscopically for the presence of starch granules which can serve as unique species markers and provide direct evidence for plant use.
The intellectual merit of this project is threefold: First, it will not only develop an analytic technique of wide archaeological applicability and value in the Old World but will also provide the first comprehensive, comparative collection of starch grains from South Asia. This collection will be made available, through the internet, to all scholars researching South Asian plants. Second, the project will demonstrate the importance and value of starch grain analysis as a form of direct evidence for plant use. For the first time there will be unambiguous evidence for human use and consumption of a specific set of plants recovered from the Indus civilization. This project will not only open up new avenue of archeological research in South Asia, but it will help clarify biases that that might exist in the archaeobotanical record by exposing additional plant species that are not necessarily preserved in the carbonized seed record. Lastly, this project will reveal patterned relationships between plants, their use and material culture. The project will address whether distinct foods are associated with specific ceramic vessels or tool types, and whether shifts in pottery style reflect shifts in plant taxa. This is a pilot project, aimed at demonstrating that starch grains can be successfully recovered from a variety of surfaces, are well preserved, and can thus provide direct evidence of the ancient Harappan diet. The broader impact of the study will be to provide a test case for the analysis of starch grains at other Harappan sites and help lay the foundation for future studies across South Asia that seek unambiguous evidence of human dietary behavior, and link artifact surfaces to specific plant related activities.

Funding Source
United States Nat'l. Science Fndn.
Project number
922621
Categories
Food Preparation and Handling