|Farewell and Thank You lunch: with Chris Stewart, Haley MacEachern, David Rupp, Jonathan Tomlinson|
A number of the books and monographs featured in my mini-reviews have discussed in some fashion the collection of different kinds of ecofactual remains from the archaeological record as well as the anthropogenic and natural formation processes that created them. The purpose of archaeological research is not simply to have data sets. One of the primary goals is the reconstruction of the human activities which utilized the organic and inorganic remains as well as the discard practices that created middens by the deposition of these residues. Middens are frequently a treasure-trove of ash, charred seeds and fruit pips, phytoliths, animal bones, animal dung and human coprolites. These materials inform us on plant resource use, diet, subsistence practices, fuel use and environmental conditions with high temporal resolution.
The excavations in the 1990s at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in southern Turkey, under the general direction of Ian Hodder, have approached the data recovery processes and data analyses from many innovative approaches. In her monograph, DailyActivities, Diet and Resource Use at Neolithic Çatalhöyük. Microstratigraphic and biomolecular evidence from middens (BAR International Series 2232, Oxford, 2011), Lisa-Marie Shillito presents what a very-fine grained examination of the thin stratigraphic layers and the features of a midden in situ or as blocks removed from the matrix can reveal. Normal recovery techniques focused on the recovery of macro-remains destroy the matrix in the process and then mixes the materials from the different layers during sieving and flotation.
Before proceding with the case study based on selected middens at Çatalhöyük she contextualized her work in terms of the overall study of middens, the potential information such investigations might reveal, the methods of inquiry and analytical techniques utilized and the research questions that she will address.
Samples were taken from the micromorphology of the midden deposits and thin sections were made. A careful examination of these provided evidence of organic and inorganic inclusions, phytoliths, internal structure and post-depositional alterations. The biomolecular analysis of the organic residues focused on plant sterols and bile acids as faecal biomarkers from the coprolites. These investigations used Fourier Transform Infra-Red Spectroscopy (FT-IR), SRS Micro X-Ray Detraction (XRD) and Scanning Electron Microscopy and Energy Dispersive X-Ray (SEM-EDX) analysis. These presentations with their illustrative materials require a basic knowledge of organic chemistry and the analytical approaches used.
In the Discussion section Shillito pulls it all together. She reconstructs how middens were formed from the debris, discards and residues of various activities, mainly food processing, preparation and cooking, fuel use, dwelling cleaning and craft activities. Animals defecated on them and human excrement (revealing food consumption) was dumped there. The cyclical and/or seasonal nature of these activities can also be inferred. From this one can deduce subsistence strategies, diet and resource exploitation practices. She concludes with the limitations of the present state of such research and comments on what improvements there could be in future investigations of similar material.
The extensive graphs, tables, charts, diagrams, flowcharts, and section drawings are essential for the understanding of her discussions. While the B/W photographs vary in quality and intelligibility the numerous color images of the stratification details and the thin sections are excellent. The Bibliography is adequate for the discussions.
If you are what you eat, then middens and latrines are where archaeologists will discover the unvarnished details of this. This thin but fascinating case study is an excellent way to learn how investigations such as these can expand your understanding of the foodways of a population beyond what the material culture and architectural remains suggest.
Eftyxismenes o Kainourios Xronos!