When method meets theory: The use and misuse of cereal producer/consumer models in archaeobotany

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Many different types of archaeologists can make theoretical economic reconstructions of ancient societies, but interpretations put forward by environmental archaeologists often are adopted without question by other archaeologists. This paper explores one example of the dangers that such an uncritical approach to environmental evidence holds for any archaeologist by considering the case of cereal producer/consumer models in archaeobotany. Because of their role as a staple crop, cereals have been studied in great depth. Identification criteria for cereal grain and chaff have been developed, discussed and revised over the last few decades. In addition, detailed ethnographic observations have been made of the entire harvesting and processing sequence for cereal crops. This wealth of biological and ethnographic analogous data has been used to support many conclusions about archaeological cereal remains. In particular, the detection of cereal producer and/or consumer sites is often an important research objective. The conflation of biological and ethnographic analogous data on cereal crops has resulted in the development of a method to identify cereal producer and consumer sites based on the ratio of cereal grain to cereal chaff to cereal weeds. This method has previously been considered flawed, but has not yet been rejected. The use, or indeed misuse, of cereal producer/consumer models provides an ideal opportunity to explore the interface between method and theory in archaeobotany and the dissemination of information between environmental archaeologists and other archaeologists. Environmental archaeology is not without its own theories, these need to be recognised but, more importantly, made clear to the non-specialist who may adopt somewhat theoretical conclusions as ‘fact’.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationEnvironmental Archaeology
    Subtitle of host publicationMeaning and Purpose
    EditorsUmberto Albarella
    Number of pages13
    ISBN (Print)9789401596527
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001

    Publication series

    NameEnvironmental Science and Technology Library
    ISSN (Print)1382-3124


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