Recovery techniques for waterlogged archaeological sediments: a comparison of different treatment methods for samples from Neolithic lake shore settlements

  • Tjaša Tolar
  • Stefanie Jacomet
  • Anton Velušček
  • Katarina Čufar
Original Article


This paper presents the first comparable overview of different recovery techniques used for waterlogged Neolithic sediments in the surroundings of the Alps in the last decades. Such an investigation became necessary because it was not known which parts of plants and types of remains were absent or completely underrepresented due to inappropriate recovery techniques in Slovenian archaeobotany up to 2006. During the 2007 excavation of the approximately 5,200 years old Neolithic pile dwelling site of Stare gmajne, Ljubljansko barje, Slovenia, we compared three methods for the investigation of botanical macroremains: method 1 (M1) included rough wet-sieving and subsequent drying of the fractions; method 2 (M2) rough wet sieving and keeping the fractions wet; and method 3 (M3) washing over and keeping the fractions wet. M3 with gentle washing, systematic subsampling, examination, and sorting of macroremains while wet, as well as using 0.355 mm as the smallest sieve mesh size gave the best results. When using the cruder M2 or M1 methods, waterlogged uncarbonized seeds of taxa such as Linum usitatissimum, Papaver somniferum and Brassica rapa, waterlogged chaff of Cerealia and pericarps of Maloideae and Quercus sp., which are all fragile, were underrepresented or even completely absent and therefore the plant spectra were strongly biased. On the contrary, taxa with lignified seed/fruit walls like Cornus mas, Corylus avellana or Rubus sp. were overrepresented when using the M2 and particularly the M1 method. The application of the M3, instead of the M1 method which has been traditionally used in Slovenian archaeobotany, helped us to identify uncarbonized remains of Linum usitatissimum and various species of Triticum for the first time in a waterlogged Neolithic site in Slovenia. Our study should contribute to a standardization of methods, which is desperately needed in archaeobotany. The study clearly shows that the plant spectra can be strongly biased if inappropriate handling techniques are used. The conclusions hold for all kinds of waterlogged sediments of different periods.


Waterlogged plant remains Recovery techniques Pile dwelling Neolithic Slovenia 



The work was done at the Institute for Prehistory and Archaeological Science IPAS, Basel, Switzerland, which provided us with the equipment, reference collections and specialized literature, and at the Institute of Archaeology at the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia. The authors would like to acknowledge the Slovenian Research Agency for financial support in the frame of the young researchers’ programme and the programme L6-0137 and AD Futura for providing the scholarship for work in Switzerland. We thank Mateja Belak and Dragotin Valoh for preparing the figures and tables.

Supplementary material

334_2009_221_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (43 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 43 kb)
334_2009_221_MOESM2_ESM.doc (227 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 227 kb)


  1. Akeret Ö, Haas J-N, Leuzinger U, Jacomet S (1999) Plant macrofossils and pollen in goat/sheep faeces from the Neolithic lake-shore settlement Arbon Bleiche 3, Switzerland. Holocene 9:175–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderberg A-L (1994) Atlas of seeds and small fruits of Northwest-European plant species with morphological descriptions. Part 4: Resedaceae—Umbelliferae. Risbergs Tryckeri AB, UddevallaGoogle Scholar
  3. Berggren G (1969) Atlas of seeds and small fruits of Nortwest-European plant species (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, East Fennoscandia and Iceland) with morphological descriptions. Part 2: Cyperaceae. Swedish Natural Science Research Council, StockholmGoogle Scholar
  4. Berggren G (1981) Atlas of seeds and small fruits of Northwest-European plant species (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, East Fennoscandia and Iceland) with morphological descriptions. Part 3: Salicaceae—Cruciferae. Swedish Natural Science Research Council, StockholmGoogle Scholar
  5. Brombacher C, Jacomet S (1997) Ackerbau, Sammelwirtschaft und Umwelt: Ergebnisse archäobotanischer Untersuchungen. In: Schibler J, Hüster-Plogmann H, Jacomet S, Brombacher C, Gross-Klee E, Rast-Eicher A (eds) Ökonomie und Ökologie neolithischer und bronzezeitlicher Ufersiedlungen am Zürichsee. Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen Mozartstrasse, Kanalisationssanierungen Seefeld, AKAD/Pressehaus und Mythenschloss in Zürich. Kanton Zürich, Zürich und Egg, pp 220–279Google Scholar
  6. Cappers R, Bekker RM, Jans JEA (2006) Digitale Zadenatlas van Nederland (Digital seed atlas of the Netherlands). Barkhuis Publishing, Groningen University Library, GroningenGoogle Scholar
  7. Čufar K, Korenčič T (2006) Investigations of wood from Resnikov Prekop and radiocarbon dating. In: Velušček A (ed) Resnikov Prekop, the oldest pile-dwelling settlement in the Ljubljansko barje. Scientific Research Centre SASA, Ljubljana, pp 123–127Google Scholar
  8. Čufar K, Velušček A (2004) Dendrochronological research of the Hočevarica pile dwelling settlement. In: Velušček A (ed) Hočevarica—an Eneolithic pile-dwelling in the Ljubljansko barje. Scientific Research Centre SASA, Ljubljana, pp 274–280Google Scholar
  9. Culiberg M (2006) Plant remains from the archaeological site at Resnikov Prekop. In: Velušček A (ed) Resnikov prekop—the oldest pile-dwelling settlement in the Ljubljansko barje. Scientific research centre SASA, Ljubljana, pp 129–132Google Scholar
  10. Hillman GC, Mason S, De Moulins D, Nesbitt M (1996) Identification of archaeological remains of wheat: the 1992 London workshop. Circaea 12:195–210Google Scholar
  11. Hosch S, Jacomet S (2001) New aspects of archaeobotanical research in central European Neolithic lake dwelling sites. Env Archaeol 6:59–71Google Scholar
  12. Hosch S, Jacomet S (2004) Ackerbau und Sammelwirtschaft. Ergebnisse der Untersuchung von Samen und Früchten. In: Jacomet S, Schibler J, Leuzinger U (eds) Die neolithische Seeufersiedlung Arbon Bleiche 3, Wirtschaft und Umwelt. (Archäologie im Thurgau 12) Frauenfeld, pp 112–157Google Scholar
  13. Hosch S, Zibulski P (2003) The influence of inconsistent wet-sieving procedures on the macroremains concentration in waterlogged sediments. J Archaeol Sci 30:849–857Google Scholar
  14. Jacomet S (1985) Botanische Makroreste aus den Sedimenten des neolithischen Siedlungsplatzes AKAD-Seehofstrasse am untersten Zürichsee. Die Reste der Uferpflanzen und ihre Aussagemöglichkeiten zu Vegetationsgeschichte, Schichtentstehung und Seespiegelschwankungen. Juris, ZürichGoogle Scholar
  15. Jacomet S (2004) Interdisziplinäres Fazit zur Schichtgenese. In: Jacomet S, Leuzinger U, Schibler J (eds) Die neolithische Seeufersiedlung Arbon Bleiche 3, Umwelt und Wirtschaft. (Archäologie im Thurgau 12) Frauenfeld, pp 101–102Google Scholar
  16. Jacomet S (2006) Plant economy of the northern Alpine lake dwelling area—3500-2400 bc cal. In: Karg S, Baumeister R, Schlichtherle H, Robinson DE (eds) Economic and environmental changes during the 4th and 3rd Millennia BC. Proceedings of the 25th symposium of the AEA, September 2004, Bad Buchau, Germany. Env Archaeol 11:64-83Google Scholar
  17. Jacomet S (2007) Neolithic plant economies in the northern Alpine foreland from 5500–3500 bc cal. In: Colledge S, Conolly J (eds) The origins and spread of domestic plants in southwest Asia and Europe. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, pp 221–258Google Scholar
  18. Jacomet S (2008) Bestimmung von Getreidefunden aus archäologischen Ausgrabungen. Identification of cereal remains from archaeological sites. IPAS, Basel University, Basel,
  19. Jacomet S (2009) Plant economies and village life in Neolithic lake dwellings at the time of the Alpine Iceman. Veget Hist Archaeobot 18:47–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jacomet S, Brombacher C (2005) Reconstructing intra-site patterns in Neolithic lakeshore settlements: the state of archaeobotanical research and future prospects. In: Della Casa P, Trachsel M (eds) WES’04—Wetland economies and societies. Proceedings of the International Conference in Zurich, 10–13 March 2004. Chronos, Zürich, pp 69–94Google Scholar
  21. Jacomet S, Brombacher C, Dick M (1989) Archäobotanik am Zürichsee. Ackerbau, Sammelwirtschaft und Umwelt von neolithischen und bronzezeitlichen Seeufersiedlungen im Raum Zürich. Ergebnisse von Untersuchungen pflanzlicher Makroreste der Jahre 1979–1988. Orell Füssli, ZürichGoogle Scholar
  22. Jeraj M (2004) Palaeobotanical analyses of Hočevarica pile dwelling. In: Velušček A (ed) Hočevarica—an Eneolithic pile dwelling in the Ljubljansko barje. Scientific Research Centre SASA, Ljubljana, pp 56–64Google Scholar
  23. Jeraj M, Velušček A, Jacomet S (2009) The diet of Eneolithic (Copper Age, fourth millennium cal bc) pile dwellers and the early formation of the cultural landscape south of the Alps: a case study from Slovenia. Veget Hist Archaeobot 18:75–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kenward HK, Hall AR, Jones AKC (1980) A tested set of techniques for the extraction of plant and animal macrofossils from waterlogged archaeological deposits. Sci Archaeol 22:3–15Google Scholar
  25. Kühn M, Hadorn P (2004) Pflanzliche Makro- und Mikroreste aus Dung von Wiederkäuern. In: Jacomet S, Leuzinger U, Schibler J (eds) Die jungsteinzeitliche Seeufersiedlung Arbon Bleiche 3, Umwelt und Wirtschaft. (Archäologie im Thurgau 12) Frauenfeld, pp 327–350Google Scholar
  26. Lah A, Adamič F (1992) Ljubljansko barje. In: Enciklopedija Slovenije 6. Ljubljana, pp 262–263Google Scholar
  27. Maier U (1996) Morphological studies of free-threshing wheat ears from a Neolithic site in southwest Germany, and the history of the naked wheats. Veget Hist Archaeobot 5:39–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Maier U (2001) Archäobotanische Untersuchungen in der neolithischen Ufersiedlung Hornstaad-Hörnle IA am Bodensee. In: Maier U, Vogt R (eds) Botanische und pedologische Untersuchungen zur Ufersiedlung Hornstaad-Hörnle IA. (Siedlungsarchäologie im Alpenvorland, 6) Theiss, Stuttgart, pp 9–384Google Scholar
  29. Maier U (2004) Archäobotanische Untersuchungen in jung- und endneolithischen Moorsiedlungen am Federsee (mit einem Beitrag von Richard Vogt). In: Köninger J, Schlichtherle H (eds) Ökonomischer und ökologischer Wandel am vorgeschichtlichen Federsee. Archäologische und naturwissenschaftliche Untersuchungen. Landesdenkmalamt Baden-Württemberg, Gaienhofen-Hemmenhofen, pp 71–159Google Scholar
  30. Retallack G (1984) Completeness of the rock and fossil record: some estimates using fossil soils. Paleobiology 10:59–78Google Scholar
  31. Van der Veen M (2007) Formation processes of desiccated and carbonized plant remains—the identification of routine practice. J Archaeol Sci 34:968–990CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Van der Veen M, Fieller N (1982) Sampling seeds. J Archaeol Sci 9:287–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Vandorpe P, Jacomet S (2007) Comparing different pre-treatment methods for strongly compacted organic sediments prior to wet-sieving: a case study on Roman waterlogged deposits. Env Archaeol 12:207–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Velušček A (2004) Past and present lake-dwelling studies in Slovenia, Ljubljansko barje (the Ljubljana Marsh). In: Menotti F (ed) Living on the lake in prehistoric Europe, 150 years of lake-dwelling research. Routledge, London, pp 69–82Google Scholar
  35. Velušček A, Čufar K (2002) Dendrokronološke raziskave kolišč na Ljubljanskem barju—stanje 2001 [Dendrochronological investigation into the pile-dwelling settlements of the Ljubljana marshes—the situation in 2001, in Slovene, English summary]. Arheološki vestnik 53:59–67Google Scholar
  36. Willerding U (1991) Präsenz, Erhaltung und Repräsentanz von Pflanzenresten in archäologischem Fundgut. In: Van Zeist WA, Wasylikowa K, Behre K-E (eds) Progress in old world palaeoethnobotany. Balkema, Rotterdam, pp 25–51Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tjaša Tolar
    • 1
  • Stefanie Jacomet
    • 2
  • Anton Velušček
    • 1
  • Katarina Čufar
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of ArchaeologyScientific Research Centre of the SASALjubljanaSlovenia
  2. 2.Institute for Prehistory and Archaeological Science IPASBaselSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Wood Science and Technology, Biotechnical FacultyUniversity of LjubljanaLjubljanaSlovenia

Personalised recommendations