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Phytolith Workshop: Interpreting Phytoliths for Environmental and Archaeological Research

May 04, 2018
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Prof. Rosa M. Albert (ICREA at ERAAUB of University of Barcelona), Ágata Rodríguez-Cintas (ERAAUB of University of Barcelona), Dr. Francesco Berna and Emily McLorn Purcell (Department of Archaeology at SFU) organized the 1st Phytolith Workshop on the 23 and 24th of April. Phytoliths are silica microremains formed in living plants. Due to their mineralogical composition they can persist for up to millions of years, and be used to reconstruct paleolandscapes or, applied to archaeology to understand how past populations were using plants and for which purposes. This workshop introduced participants to the applications of phytoliths to archaeological and environmental questions.

During the workshop, attendees had the opportunity to hear from experts in the field about the applications of phytoliths in archaeological or paleoenvironmental research. On April 23 Research Prof. Rosa Maria Albert, ICREA at the University of Barcelona, Prof. Caroline Stromberg from the University of Washington and Emily McLorn Purcell introduced phytolith research, and gave examples from their own work. Dr. Francesco Berna talked on the importance of understanding the context through the use of complementary disciplines. On April 24, a small group of 12 people spent a day practicing phytolith extraction from archaeological soils, viewing a modern plant reference collection, and learning to identify and analyze phytoliths from both modern plant and archaeological material under the microscope. Participants came from archaeology, REM, biology, forensics, and Parks Canada.