Identification Criteria for Plant Remains
Recovered from Archaeological Sites in the Central Mesa Verde Region
This document consists primarily of two large compendia that list both
metric and nonmetric descriptive data for analyzed plant remains collected
from archaeological sites excavated by the Crow Canyon Archaeological
Center between 1983 and 2000. The purpose of presenting these data in
tabular form is to provide analysts and interested readers with an easy-to-use
guide for the identification of plant remains in archaeological assemblages
from the northern Southwest. Compendium A lists the identification criteria for wood charcoal, and Compendium
B lists the identification criteria for charred nonwood specimens
(primarily reproductive and nonwood vegetative plant materials). Both
compendia also include links to specimen photographs.
Many of the plant parts listed in Compendia A and B were originally described
in various archaeobotanical reports prepared for Crow Canyon, both published
(Adams 1993*4, 1999*2)
and unpublished (Adams 1989*2, 1989*3, 1989*5; Bowyer 1995*1; Bowyer
and Adams 1998*1; Brown
Descriptive information in these reports has been modified and expanded
for inclusion in the compendia. For corroborating information and additional
detail, the following sources were also consulted: Adams
(1980*1, 1980*2, 2001*1); Barefoot and Hankins (1982*1); Bell and King (1944*1); Bohrer (1986*1); Bohrer
and Adams (1976*1); Correll
and Johnston (1970*1); Cutler
and Whitaker (1961*1); Dale
(1968*1); Delorit (1970*1); Friedman (1978*1); Gould
and Shaw (1983*1); Harrington
(1964*1); Isely (1947*1); Kaplan (1956*1); Kearney
and Peebles (1960*1); Martin
and Barkley (1961*1); Minnis
(1987*1); Rainey (1998*1); Reeder (1957*1); Schweingruber
(1982*1); Wellhausen et
al. (1952*1); and Welsh
et al. (1987*1).
For a discussion of the protocol used during basic analysis, readers are
referred to a separate on-line publication, Archaeobotanical
Analysis: Principles and Methods (Adams
2004*1). That document includes a discussion of the interpretive potential
of charred and noncharred plant remains (paragraph
6); definitions of the two broad categories of plant remains (wood
charcoal and charred nonwood specimens) (paragraph
7), and an explanation of the naming and labeling conventions used
in analysis and reporting (paragraphs
912). An understanding of these basic analytic, recording, and
interpretive protocol is essential to understanding the information presented
in the compendia.
For ease of use, we provide the reader with several options for ordering
the entries in Compendia A and B. In Compendium A, entries may be sorted
(a) alphabetically by taxon, (b) by type of ring pattern, (c) by the presence
or absence of vessels, (d) by presence or abscence of resin canals, and
(e) on the basis of whether or not rays are visible at low magnification.
In Compendium B, entries may be sorted (a) alphabetically by taxon, (b)
by plant part, (c) by "face view" shape, (d) by cross section shape, or
(e) by size class. The various shapes recorded in Compendium B are illustrated
in Figure 1. The column heads that structure
both compendia are explained in detail in separate, linked lists (Compendium
A column heads and Compendium B column
Because confidence in botanical identification varies, depending in part
on the preservation of the specimen and the level of experience of the
individual analyst, ancient specimens are not always identified to the
same taxonomic level. For example, Atriplex-type charcoal is a
more general identification than Atriplex canescenstype charcoal.
Yet the differences in descriptive terms between specimens identified
to the more general level and those identified to the more specific level
are often negligible. For this reason, in the example above and in many
other cases in Compendia A and B, the same or very similar descriptions
are repeated for multiple entries, corresponding to more-general and more-specific
taxonomic identifications. In some instances, the reader is simply referred
to the description of the other plant part for the information.
When it is known that only a single species within a given genus is present
in the region, all specimens identified to that genus most likely represent
the one known species. Nonetheless, in Compendia A and B, we maintain
the genus and genus-species designations as two separate entries. For
example, Acer negundo is the only species in the genus Acer that grows in the Mesa Verde region, so all archaeological Acer remains are probably of this species. In Compendium A, however, Acer and Acer negundo are listed separately, and we leave it to individual
researchers to combine or keep separate the two taxonomic categories as
may suit their individual purposes.
Finally, to further assist the user, we provide photographs of examples
of most of the described items, which the user may view by clicking on
the photo numbers in the relevant column of each compendium. The items
were photographed at various magnifications, which are always specified.
Although almost all of the plant-part descriptions are based on observation
of charred specimens, some photographs are of noncharred examples (information
on the condition [charred vs. noncharred] and age [ancient vs. modern]
of each photographed item is provided). The analyst should keep in mind
that burned plant materials often shrink, so the charred specimens are
usually smaller than their unburned counterparts. Photographs were taken
by Shawn S. Murray, Karen R. Adams, and Vandy E. Bowyer.
Click on the titles below to access Compendia A and B:
Compendium A. Plant Identification Criteria:
Compendium B. Plant Identification Criteria:
Charred Nonwood Specimens
1Although twig fragments are wood, they are described in Compendium
B because their small size makes it difficult for analysts to observe
the traits typically recorded for larger pieces of wood.
Karen R. Adams (Ph.D., University of Arizona,
1988) is an independent consultant in archaeobotany with more than 30
years of experience in the American Southwest and northern Mexico.
Shawn S. Murray (M.S., University of Wisconsin-Madison,
1997) is an archaeobotanist with experience in the American Southwest
and Mali, Africa.
To cite this publication:
Adams, Karen R., and Shawn S. Murray
2004 Identification Criteria for Plant Remains Recovered from Archaeological
Sites in the Central Mesa Verde Region [HTML Title]. Available: http://www.crowcanyon.org/plantID.
Date of use: day month year.*
*Example: Date of use: 26 November 2004.