Phytoliths- plant silica bodies
Plant silica in palaeoecology, archaeology and food science.
Plant silicon work can generally be split into two main areas:
2) Phytoliths, which are mostly studied by palaeoecologists and archaeologists.
As it happens I am one of the relatively few scientists to have a foot in both camps! This section of my web site will be devoted to the second category.
Plant silica bodies (phytoliths) have shapes and sizes that have potential uses in palaeoecology, archaeology and food science. In certain environments they are very persistent, and can be used by archaeologists to determine what people were growing and eating in the past. Much of my early work on phytoliths has been used by palaeoecologists and archaeologists, but this was not the primary intention when I did the work!
It was not until the work of my first Ph.D. student, Helen Tubb, in the early 1990's that I was involved in work that was specifically aimed at archaeologists. We investigated the silica bodies in the inflorescences of wheat, barley, and their progenitor species, and found that we could distinguish between wheat and barley just using one particular silica body! See:
TUBB, H.J., HODSON, M.J. & HODSON, G.C. (1993) The inflorescence papillae of the Triticeae: A new tool for taxonomic and archaeological research. Annals of Botany 72, 537-545. Abstract
Even this work was entirely on plant samples- no archaeological sites yet! More recently I have begun to get involved in some work on phytoliths in archaeological and palaeoecological contexts- see Archaeology and Palaeoecology.