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Molecular Archaeobotany

Allaby Research Group

Molecular archaeobotany is the study of the history/evolutionary history of plants important to man using biomolecular data. It is an umbrella term which draws on several approaches which are outlined in more detail on other pages. An archaeological site from which we derive much of our archaeobotanical material is Qasr Ibrim, which is on the Nile in Egypt. This is a fascinating site which was occupied until recently for over three thousand years by very different successive cultures: Napatan, Roman, Meroitic, Christian and Islamic cultures.


As such this provides an unusual insight into the use of crops over time. Questions which we are concerned with include, did successive cultures adopt each others crops, or bring in their own? Were crops locally adapted to the dry conditions (the water in the photo above is a recent reservoir development!). Such ancient qualities could be of use in our world today here water usage is the single biggest issue in feeding the world's population.


Currently we are studying the palaeogenomics of cotton (pictured left) from the site, and we are also interested in the local evolution of barley. The extent of biomolecular preservation in these dessicated materials can only be described as extraordinary.

Several approaches are typically used in molecular archaeobotany. Firstly, phylogeographic patterns of alleles from extant plant accessions are used to track crop trajectories, and contribute to phylogenetic analyses. Secondly, genetic information can be accessed directly from archaeobotanical remains (archaeogenetics). Thirdly, the theoretical expectations of domestication can be examined through evolutionary systems approaches, and related to the observed data.



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