Date: 06 May 2014

Upper Palaeolithic archaeobotany of Ghar-e Boof cave, Iran: a case study in site disturbance and methodology

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Abstract

The excavation of Ghar-e Boof, a cave in the Zagros Mountains, places the site not only at the center of discussion on the transition to and development of its regional lithic tradition: the Rostamian (37,000–31,000 BP), but also in differentiating between plants used by humans or mere traces of the surrounding vegetation. The large pulses of Lathyrus or Vicia sp. recovered from this shallow cave in the southwest of Iran may, for instance, represent food collected from wild stands already in the early Upper Palaeolithic. The seeds of barley (Hordeum sp.), although not all clearly domesticated, are without doubt signs of disturbance or bioturbation since the historic era. Analysis of cave deposits over 30,000 years old raise a number of methodological and interpretive challenges. Human, taphonomic, or biomechanical disturbances impact the deposition of plant remains, as well as affect the composition of the assemblages, undermining spatial and ecological examination of the data set. Comprehension of provenance of the samples, site genesis, and matrix development, through detailed micromorphological and stratigraphical studies, is thus suggested in conjunction with the archaeobotanical analyses, to identify disturbances, define their cause, and treat them appropriately. Numerical studies and ecological interpretations of climate, vegetation composition, or indications of human activity therefore follow specific criteria discussed here. Despite signs of disturbance in the plant assemblages, archaeobotanic research can lead to recognition of environmental conditions, plausible human subsistence, site use and seasonality, and sound vegetation description.