In total, 70 phytoliths, 9 starch granules or clusters, 3 pollen grains, and 13 miscellaneous microfossils were identified in the calculus samples from Nemrik 9 (Tables 2 and 3). Most phytoliths (c. 75 %) were recovered from calculus produced by only one individual NK/2335. Another relatively abundant context is NK/3341 (c. 20 %). Only two phytoliths were retrieved from other calculus samples. However, the two individuals with the largest calculus samples and highest phytolith yield represent two phases of occupation of the site, so temporal comparison is, to some extent, possible. On the other hand, other plant microfossils were distributed in a more uniform way.
Calculus sample NK/2335 included 53 taxonomically significant phytoliths. Of these, 31 appear to be derived from the surrounding environment when this individual was alive. Phytoliths ascribed to grass leaves are attributed to the local environment rather than suggesting people were eating grass leaves. Phytoliths from cool-season, C3 metabolism grasses (leaves) were dominant (22 in total). One saddle phytolith from the grass subfamily Chloridoideae was recovered, and one bilobate derived from the grass subfamily Panicoideae also was noted. Phytoliths likely associated with food consumption consisted of 14 disarticulated dendriforms (Fig. 2f), 2 papillae, 5 epidermal sheet element fragments with wavy-margined long cells (Fig. 2e), and a dendritic epidermal sheet element (Fig. 2g). None of these phytoliths exhibited characteristics that could be unambiguously ascribed to a particular grass. However, they are consistent with those found in husk material from wheat (Triticum sp.) and rye grass (Elymus sp., Lolium sp.).
Figure 2e shows a small sheet element fragment from a grass stem that has been cut with a threshing sledge. The four cuts on this phytolith include straight and slightly concave cut edges diagonally across the sheet element. Both are typical of cuts produced experimentally when using a bladed threshing sledge (Anderson 1999). Both the length of the cut phytolith and the angle of the cuts are important. Longer pieces of stem are expected when the record is from harvested stems, while shorter pieces are typical of the repetitive cutting typical of threshing with a sledge. Cuts resulting from multiple passes of the sledge across stems, paleas, and lemmas produce many lengths of tissue containing silicified sheet elements. Cuts that are on a diagonal to the natural break between cells are more diagnostic of cutting with a sledge than are cuts along cell margins, whether they are along the long or short margins of the cell. Although it is theoretically possible to break sheets of silica along cells across the “tops” or “bottoms” of individual cells by trampling, these straight, perpendicular cuts are made by threshing sledges and considered to be typical of sledge use (Alkalesh and Anderson 2016). Cuts on the diagonal, on the other hand, cannot be argued to be natural, since there is no natural weakness to be exploited. Cuts perpendicular to the long axis of the cell may be the result of trampling or threshing sledge use, as hoofed animals treading on stems containing sheets of silica bodies might not only break the cells apart but might also break the cells in other ways. Experimental work with sickles, razors, scissors, knives, and other cutting tools produced jagged edges rather than smooth cut edges. Use of pressure when cutting does not produce a smooth cut edge. In contrast, when a threshing sledge “glides” on top of a thick layer or pile of straw, individual straws rotate under the threshing blades, scoring or cutting the straw rather than crushing it. Further, trampling by animals during the threshing process results in breaking down the straw fragments into ever-smaller pieces along the scored lines. In the absence of a threshing sledge, the same small size particles of straw have not been produced experimentally by trampling or any means of cutting.
Of the 15 phytoliths recovered from calculus sample NK/3341, a total of 5 appear to be derived from glumes retained on cereal grains consumed by the individual, while the other 10 are most likely derived from the local vegetation growing during the time this individual was alive. The environmental signal was dominated by phytoliths derived from cool-season, C3 metabolism grasses. Only one C4 grass phytolith was observed, a saddle-type plateau (Fig. 2o) that is most likely derived from Phragmites. Of the five grass inflorescence phytoliths, three were disarticulated dendriforms, one was a small section of a dendritic sheet element, and one was a large fragment of a dendritic sheet element (Fig. 2r). Of particular interest was the large dendritic sheet with keeled rondels and single large papillae in situ. The long cell margins within this sheet element are of a wave pattern consistent with that of wheat (Triticum). The diameter of the papillae (32 μm) and the height of the long cell wave patterns (5 μm) are also within the range described for wheat and, most importantly, outside the range described for barley (Rosen 1992). Thus, this particular phytolith provides strong supporting evidence for the presence of wheat (Triticum) at this site. Distinction between wild wheat and domesticated wheat cannot be made using the wave pattern or papillae diameter.
Only two phytoliths were recovered from other calculus samples. One rondel phytolith was recovered from NK/2393, but it is impossible to determine if it was derived from the surrounding environment or was the result of grass seed consumption. Another phytolith was recovered from NK/2732, and it appears to be derived from the surrounding environment during the period of time when this individual was alive. This phytolith is a trapeziform sinuate common in leaf material from cool-season, C3 grasses.
Only a few pollen grains were recovered from tooth calculus at Nemrik 9. Sample NK/1891 contained a cluster of Cerealia pollen grains (Fig. 2a), and one cheno-am pollen (Fig. 2h) was included in the sample NK/2423. Finally, one Brassicaceae pollen was recovered from NK/2732, indicating local growth of plants in the mustard family and suggesting the possibility that a food was prepared from the mustard plant that was in flower.
Two clusters of starch grains were found in the samples from Nemrik 9. In sample NK/2393, a large cluster of lenticular starches (Fig. 2i, j) was observed that consisted of approximately 5 large grains (18–20 μm in diameter) and at least 14 small grains (2–4 μm in diameter). The characteristics exhibited by this cluster of starch suggest wheat, barley, or weedy goatgrass (Aegylops). In addition, two starch granules from NK/2638 are a small cluster of one large and one very small grain, with a few other very small particles adhering to the cluster (Fig. 2n). This type of appearance is consistent with experimental damage from parching (Henry et al. 2009), and this cluster may also derive from wheat or barley. Immature or small starches are not uncommon in reference material.
Other samples from Nemrik 9 contained only single starches. Three starch granules retrieved from NK/2638 are subangular and faceted and are consistent in shape and size with our references for starch produced in sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) seeds (Fig. 2m). Sorghum is not suggested as an identification due to the fact that it is not documented for this region prior to approximately 2000 bce (Kimber 2000:15). These starches are, however, larger than those observed in millet. Additional reference work to compare starches produced in grasses native to the study area is necessary to identify native grass seeds that produce this morphology of starch.
In sample NK/1891, two starch granules (Fig. 2b–d) were observed. The starches were both lenticular in cross section and approximately 18 μm in diameter. Both granules exhibited evidence of damage from cooking, most likely boiling, and as a result, these cannot be securely identified to genus. The cooking damage is fairly consistent with that typical for wheat (Triticum sp.); however, barley (Hordeum sp.) is a possible source for these grains as well.
Two starch grains from NK/2423 (Fig. 2k) and NK/2512 (Fig. 2l) were circular in outline, lenticular in cross section, and exhibit damage from cooking that is consistent with boiling. Both granules appear to derive from either wheat or barley. One large, lenticular starch grain (18 × 22 μm in diameter) likely derived from wheat or barley (Fig. 2q) was recovered from sample NK/2801.
A few fungal spores not similar to yeast were observed in three samples, but they obviously represent diagenetic contamination of calculus. One darkened vessel element fragment with bordered pits, recovered from sample NK/2794 (Fig. 2p), was deemed quite unusual. This fragment might represent using a sliver of wood as a toothpick to clean the teeth. There is no evidence that the darkening is due to charring or burning. If, however, this fragment is charred or burned, then it is possible this fragment derives from a woody tree or shrub that was inadvertently consumed as wood ash from the cooking fire.