Macrobotanical Analysis

The standardized and systematic sampling of wood, seeds, fruit, and plant parts provide data with which to investigate questions related to human-plant interactions in the past, including topics of agriculture, land-use strategies, environmental management, diet and cuisine, variable access to plant resources, and technological applications such as fuel, artisan industries, and construction. These organic remains are preserved most frequently through carbonization, incomplete charring through exposure to heat; but in other cases, plant remains may be preserved through desiccation, waterlogging, or mineralization. Macrobotanical data is readily integrated with other lines of archaeological and environmental evidence to illuminate cooking and storage practices, seasonal mobility, and spatial organization of discrete activity areas, environmental impacts over time, among other topics. Moreover, depending on a project’s research objectives, macrobotanical remains can be sampled to investigate plant use across time or across space.

Atlatl can provide flotation services to extract macrobotanical remains from sediments with a flotation machine. For those interested, Atlatl is happy to provide sampling strategy guidance, potential flotation techniques, or the construction of a flotation machine for your site.


Atlatl offers three kinds of macrobotanical analyses for floated/dry sieved samples: Economic Seed & Plant Part Analysis, Wild Seed & Plant Part Analysis, and Basic Wood Charcoal Analysis. Please contact us if you have samples in need of floatation or sieving prior to sending for analysis. Samples (light fraction) larger than 100 mL will be subsampled for analysis.

Economic Seed & Plant Part Analysis

Economic seeds are cultivated for consumption or use (i.e. grasses, pulses, and fruits). The identification of economic seeds and fruits along with their associated plant parts (e.g., chaff, pods, stems) aids in understanding human diet, agricultural practices, crop preferences, trade networks, and land-use strategies. These seeds are identified by morphological characteristics and size in comparison with modern comparative specimens. While an exact species identification may not be possible, identification to family or genus still provides information about past human-plant relationships. Economic seeds are often the major focus of macrobotanical analysis and are frequently accompanied by wild seed identification. 

Wild Seed & Plant Part Analysis

Wild seeds come from undomesticated, uncultivated plants. The plants producing these seeds and associated parts (e.g., stems, pods, robust leafy bits) occur naturally in the surrounding site environment and can be used as proxies for environmental and vegetation community reconstruction. Their ecological requirements are more specific and therefore provide more refined information about past environmental conditions. Seeds are identified by morphological characteristics and size in comparison to modern comparative specimens. An exact identification of species is not always possible due to preservation condition and the wide range of taxa, identification to family or genus are often possible. Wild seed analysis is commonly conducted alongside economic seed analysis. 

Basic Wood Charcoal Analysis

Archaeological wood charcoal is often the remains of fuel, burned trash or middens, conflagrations of wooden structures, or forest fires. The identification of trees and woody plants represented in charcoal assemblages aids the understanding of preferential fuel use, construction materials, raw material/lumber trade networks, orchard maintenance, natural vegetation around the site, and land-use strategies such as controlled burns. Wood charcoal is identified through microscopic analysis of anatomical features which vary by taxon. Wood will be identified to family or genus, and when possible, to species (dependent on preservation and size of specimens). This analysis is often conducted independently of economic or wild seed analysis but is increasingly conducted in tandem with seeds for a more holistic investigation of past human-plant relationships.


Sample ProcessingCost Per Sample (CAD)
Dry Sieving$100
AnalysisCost Per Sample (CAD)
Economic Seed Analysis$100
Wild Seed Analysis$200
Basic Wood Charcoal Analysis$200
Comprehensive Analysis$400
Radiometric Dating~$420
ReportingCosts Per Project (CAD)
Report Writing$1000 (20 hours) – $1500 (30 hours)
Research for Interpretive Reports$50/hour
Lab Supplies$25
Return Shipping (if requested)TBD