Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 151–163 | Cite as

The contribution of ethnobotany and experimental archaeology to interpretation of ancient food processing: methodological proposals based on the discussion of several case studies on Prosopis spp., Chenopodium spp. and Cucurbita spp. from Argentina

  • Aylen Capparelli
  • María Lelia Pochettino
  • Veronica Lema
  • María Laura López
  • Diego Andreoni
  • María Laura Ciampagna
  • Carina Llano
Original Article


The purpose of this paper is to discuss recent methodological advances in Argentinean archaeobotany that incorporate the use of ethnobotany as an ethnoarchaeological tool for interpreting ancient food systems in South America. This is an integrative paper that takes into account both published and unpublished results. The role of ethnobotany is examined with reference to ethnobotanical and experimental food processing studies on Prosopis, a wild food plant, and two cultivated ones Chenopodium quinoa and Cucurbita spp., followed by laboratory examinations with microscopy to identify diagnostic changes in plant morphology and anatomy. Experimental materials are then compared with archaeological specimens to identify different types of ancient food processing, and to make inferences about prehistoric post-harvest systems. We demonstrated that: (a) it was critical for our food processing studies to achieve the best taxonomical identification resolution that the plant remains allow; (b) a multi-proxy approach was highly advantageous; (c) ethnobotanical data were crucial to identify food processing pathways of individual plants and combinations of them; (d) the understanding of commensality in the wider sense of the term allows us to determine food patterns both in domestic and funerary contexts. These investigations, the first ones of this type in Argentina, constitute a qualitative step in the methodology for this country because they expand our abilities to interpret the nature of routine plant processing from archaeobotanical assemblages, and they are also a substantial contribution to the development of our discipline in general because the taxa discussed in this paper are distributed throughout South America, as well as in other parts of the world.


Argentina Archaeobotany Ethnobotany Experimental studies Food processing 



The authors are indebted to the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas (CONICET) PIP 0459 funding to Aylen Capparelli, and to Facultad Ciencias Naturales y Museo, UNLP, which has provided institutional and financial support for this work. The authors would like to thank Michèle Wollstonecroft, who gave us very interesting comments that helped to improve the first version of the text, to the anonymous referees for their invaluable suggestions and to the editors and J. Greig for helping us to improve the English writing.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aylen Capparelli
    • 1
    • 4
  • María Lelia Pochettino
    • 2
    • 4
  • Veronica Lema
    • 1
    • 4
  • María Laura López
    • 1
    • 4
  • Diego Andreoni
    • 1
  • María Laura Ciampagna
    • 1
    • 4
  • Carina Llano
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Scientific Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Natural Sciences and MuseumLa Plata National UniversityLa PlataArgentina
  2. 2.Laboratory of Ethnobotany and Applied BotanyNatural Sciences Museum of La PlataLa PlataArgentina
  3. 3.Laboratory of GeoarchaeologyCuyo National University, University CenterMendozaArgentina
  4. 4.CONICET (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas)Buenos AiresArgentina

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