Water History

, 3:121 | Cite as

Carbon stable isotope analysis of cereal remains as a way to reconstruct water availability: preliminary results

  • Pascal FlohrEmail author
  • Gundula Müldner
  • Emma Jenkins


Reconstructing past water availability, both as rainfall and irrigation, is important to answer questions about the way society reacts to climate and its changes and the role of irrigation in the development of social complexity. Carbon stable isotope analysis of archaeobotanical remains is a potentially valuable method for reconstructing water availability. To further define the relationship between water availability and plant carbon isotope composition and to set up baseline values for the Southern Levant, grains of experimentally grown barley and sorghum were studied. The cereal crops were grown at three stations under five different irrigation regimes in Jordan. Results indicate that a positive but weak relationship exists between irrigation regime and total water input of barley grains, but no relationship was found for sorghum. The relationship for barley is site-specific and inter-annual variation was present at Deir ‘Alla, but not at Ramtha and Khirbet as-Samra.


Carbon stable isotope analyses Archaeobotanical remains Water availability Irrigation Experimental crop growing Jordan 



PF is funded by a University of Reading PhD studentship. Travel to Jordan in 2009 was made possible by a Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL) Travel Grant. The Water, Life, and Civilization project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. We are very grateful to the Water, Life, and Civilization project for supplying the barley samples; to Khalil Jamjoum (National Centre for Agricultural Research and Extension) and Sameeh Nuimat for conducting the crop growing experiments in Jordan; to CBRL in Amman for help with the crop growing experiments; to Tina Moriarty for advice on and help with sample processing; to Sam Smith and David Mudd & students for taking many of the samples from Jordan to the UK; and to Karin Schuitema and both reviewers for their very helpful comments on this paper.


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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  2. 2.Bournemouth UniversityDorsetUK

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