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What can we learn from pollen grains? Introducing the work of a Palynologist

  • 17th February 2014

A little over a month ago I started working in the Finds and Environment team for Worcestershire Archaeology, so I thought is was about time that I came on here and introduced myself properly!

My name is Suzi Richer and I am a palynologist. Unfortunately, that’s one of those obscure titles that can often cause people to say, ‘Huh? What’s that?’

Suzi coring for samples

Basically, I examine pollen grains that have been preserved in waterlogged deposits, like ditches, ponds, peat, moats, wells or palaeochannels. From the pollen grains I can tell which trees and plants were growing at a specific point in the past, this then allows me to provide an environmental context for archaeological sites.

Depending on the site and the types of pollen that I come across, I can also get an idea of what types of activity were occurring in the area too. This is especially useful if the activity didn’t leave much in the way of structural or material remains. For example, I can tell:

·         if a landscape was deforested (I see a decline in tree pollen),

·         if the site was in an agricultural area (I see cereal pollen grains),

·         if an activity like hemp or flax retting was occurring (I see lots of pollen grains from hemp/flax, usually from a site where there was a body of water, such as a pond or a stream. See Liz Pearson’s work with the Young Archaeologists Club for more information about retting flax.

I can be contacted on sricher@worcestershire.gov.uk if you have any pollen-related questions. For instance, if you are part of a local archaeology group, community group or if you would just like to know a little more about what pollen can tell you, I’d love to hear from you.

Anthemis arvensis pollen grain. Image courtesy of the Society for the Promotion of Palynological Research in Austria, http://www.paldat.org/

Alternatively, our interactive Touch History table on Level 2 in The Hive lets you discover for yourself how pollen grains and other types of environmental evidence, like animal bones, seeds and shells can help us to unravel past environments – come and have a play!

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