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Terrace Archaeology

and Culture in Europe


Identify past crops, biodiversity and management...

The land use of terraces is often inferred rather than scientifically determined, so e.g. if large quantities of olive oil are being produced by a civilisation and even recorded in writing then it might reasonably be assumed the terraces are under olive groves. While this approach is valid it does not tell us much about the actual use or multiple use of specific terrace systems. Traditional methods such as pollen and plant macrofossils are generally inappropriate due to the oxidising environment. However, one study recently carried out by R. Albert (Boixadera et al. 2016) and the results showed high potential for phytolith analyses since they allowed not only differentiation between cultivars in time, but also the identification of terrace construction processes.


Whilst this is a well-developed technique TerrACE will also seek to apply a novel technique that of aDNA preserved in the soil in terrace profiles. Although soil DNA was first used to investigate extreme environments such as Norse farming in Greenland (Hebsgaard et al. 2009) and palaeoecosystems in the tundra (Willerslev et al. 2003; Willerslev et al. 2014) it can also be preserved in warmer soil conditions (Yoccoz et al. 2012; Bremond et al. 2017). The use of this technique will be experimental but aDNA has been successfully extracted from a soil near the French study area (Yoccoz et al. 2012) and lacustrine sediments in Norway (Parducci et al. 2012, Paus et al. 2015, Alsos et al. in prep). As cultivated plants and animals are common contaminants in aDNA analyses (Thomson & Willerslev 2015), authenticity will be investigated by shotgun sequencing and subsequent analyses of damage pattern (Weiss et al. 2015). 

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