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Karen is an ICREA Research Professor at the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of York.
Karen’s current lab-based research project has developed out of an EU Marie Curie OIF project (2005-2008) to explore ways to use starch granules to reconstruct the starchy food component of pre-agricultural diet. She extracts starch granules from archaeological sediment and dental calculus to reconstruct starchy foods in ancient diet. One aspect of this work, in collaboration with the Faculty of Agriculture, Food Science and Natural Resources of the University of Sydney, is to understand how starch, which is a biodegradable material, can survive into archaeological time.
With Dr Julie Wilson, YCCSA, University of York.
Funded by The British Academy
The use of starch granules to identify plants to genus and species is becoming an increasingly widely used resource in archaeology. Starch granules are often assigned to species based upon their morphological characteristics but such studies rely upon the visual comparison between individual archaeological granules with modern reference granules.
The aim of this application is to build upon pilot work to test the validity of starch granule morphology using statistical models built upon data obtained from image processing as a tool for identification of starchy foods in ancient diet. Samples to be used come from the early agricultural site of Catal Hoyuk, Turkey.
The site of Catal Hoyuk is one of the best-preserved, early agricultural sites in the world. My role in this project is to explore the use of non-domesticated carbohydrate sources here, in particular the role of edible wild starchy tubers, particularly Scirpus maritimus, which is common on the site. I am currently building up a picture of starch presence and distribution on the site. To do this, I take samples from house floors, features, and artifacts from across the site.
Collaboration, Antonio Rosas and the El Sidrón team, National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid.
El Sidrón cave site (Asturias, Spain) represents the most significant Neanderthal site in the Iberian peninsula. Almost 1600 human fossils have been recovered here since 2000. The site is located in a small transversal gallery (Galería del Osario) in the El Sidrón karst system. The human remains have been directly dated to 49 ka by 14C and other methods (Bastir M. et al 2010. Journal of Human Evolution 58: 68–78). My role is to extract plant microfossils from the dental calculus of Neanderthal fossils, and reconstruct their use of starchy food.
A project funded by the Irish Heritage Council and in collaboration with James Eogan (Nationa lRoads Authority, Ireland) and Meriel McClatchie is creating a reference collection of modern edible starchy plants in Ireland and exploring the survival of starchy plants in archaeological sites here. In collaboration with BioArch, York, a website http://starch-id.eu has been developed to store all starch granule reference material.
Karen has recently begun a new major field project on the Isle of Skye in collaboration with a Catalan research team from the UAB and CSIC, Barcelona and with Katherine Selby , Environment department at York. The Catalan team has recently completed a long term ethnoarchaeological research project in Tierra del Fuego. Together they will work to develop our understanding of the early occupation of Scotland’s west coast and the environment of the time . The project is funded by the Generalitat de Catalunya and the Ministry of Science and Innovation, Madrid, Spain,
The archaeological record for the Mesolithic in this area consists largely of numerous lithic scatters and shell middens. Most of the huge numbers of caves and rockshelters that exist along parts of the west coast contain archaeological material, both Mesolithic and later, and this offers, perhaps uniquely for Europe, a very extensive, largely undisturbed record of marine exploitation and coastal occupation from the earliest to most recent times. During much of the early Holocene, Britain was a peninsula of Europe and Scotland’s west coast was its western edge. Because of this, the importance of these archaeological remains and the information they contain, stretches beyond Scotland and Britain and becomes significant at the European scale.
A project funded by the Irish Heritage Council and in collaboration with James Eogan and Meriel McClatchie is creating a reference collection of modern edible starchy plants in Ireland and exploring the survival of starchy plants in archaeological sites here.
Shell middens can be complicated to excavate and difficult to interpret and an ethnoarchaeological project in Senegal, which will hopefully begin in autumn 2010 will focus on understanding midden structure and social aspects of shell fish collecting. The Saloum Delta in Senegal is the most northerly part of the extensive mangrove swamps that stretch from here southwards round to the Ivory Coast. These swamps are home to some of the last traditional transient shellfish gatherers in the world. A preliminary visit to the region occurred in April 2008 as part of an international workshop on shell middens, which was organised jointly by Karen, Abdoulaye Camara of the Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar and Geoff Bailey and funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation and the University of York.