Skip to main content

The INEA Project

Identifying activity areas in Neolithic sites through ethnographic analysis of phytoliths and geochemical residues (INEA)

About the project

INEA Project image

The Neolithic in southwest Asia (c 11,700-7800 cal BP) is an important period in human history which saw the advent of sedentism, agriculture, and ultimately, the rise of complex societies. It is also, however, one of the most poorly understood. This is partly due to the problems associated with site recognition and partly because of the lack of preservation of many forms of evidence, particularly biological. As a result, many Neolithic sites are comprised of a series of structures, the function of which is difficult, if not impossible, to interpret. Therefore, it is critical that we maximise the information that can be acquired from these sites.

To address this problem, we are conducting a large-scale combined analysis of phytoliths and geochemical elements from ethnographic sites to determine if certain activity areas, e.g. middens, hearths and floors, have particular phytolith and geochemical signatures that can help us recognise these same areas archaeologically.

Mud village

Two different ethnographic settlement types are being studied: 1) Bedouin camp sites and 2) abandoned mud and stone constructed villages. These have been chosen because they provide the best available analogies for the Neolithic sites which we are analysing as part of this project.

The Bedouin tent sites are the ethnographic analogy for the small scale, ephemeral, pastoralist, and seasonally occupied sites of Wadi el-Jilat and Azraq, while the abandoned village of Ma’tan, near Tafila in southern Jordan is the comparison for the more substantial stone and mud brick constructed sites of Ain Ghazal, Beidha, and WF16.

Project objectives

  • Integrate combined phytolith and geochemical methods to identify activity areas within settlements (e.g. middens, floors, hearths) through ethnographic analysis. This will determine if certain areas have unique phytolith and geochemical signatures that can be used to identify these same areas archaeologically
  • Increase our understanding of how phytolith and geochemical assemblages form within archaeological sites through ethnographic analysis
  • Establish how phytolith and geochemical assemblages are altered through time by taphonomy (i.e. the processes assemblages go through from creation to analysis which can alter their composition), a previously under studied topic
  • Use existing knowledge of how space was used within targeted Neolithic sites to assess how effective the combined phytolith and geochemical approach is at identifying activity areas
  • Determine if a combined phytolith and geochemical method can inform on how settlements were used during the Neolithic period, providing important new information about lifestyles during the critical transition from mobile hunter-gatherers to sedentary farmers
  • Increase outreach and public engagement through two short documentaries to: a) educate the public about the work archaeologists do and its societal value; b) allow engagement with a local community.

INEA Modern Plant Phytolith Database 

The INEA Project processed 79 species of modern plants to produce a comparative phytolith reference collection. This included a range of dicotyledons and monocotyledons. A full list of the species in our reference collection can be found here . All photos of each species divided by plant part are stored within Google Photos, and access to our database can be granted upon request to Dr Emma Jenkins at ejenkins@bounemouth.ac.uk

Publications

Conferences

News from the Department of Archaeology & Anthropology