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Subject:

Mark Nesbitt's seed key and teaching

From:

Andrew Fairbairn <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

The archaeobotany mailing list <[log in to unmask]>, Andrew Fairbairn <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 12 Jun 2006 13:28:49 +1000

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Dear list

I have just completed (thankfully) our science in archaeology course, which 
I have modified to include some introductory archaeobotany practical 
classes. I thought I'd share an experience of teaching novice undergrads 
using Mark Nesbitt's excellent new Near Eastern seed key.

Archaeobotany is very new here and I realised that I was dealing with 
undergrads who were totally unprepared for any lab work. Fortunately for 
me, I just received my copy of Mark's key and thought I'd use it to 
introduce a) the idea of using keys and also b) to explain the basics of 
identifying seeds. To cut a long story short, I designed a table of 
identification characters used in the key, filling in those that were too 
difficult for a novice to determine. This left 7 characters to identify 
using the microscope. The characters were explained in a lab notebook I 
provided for the students, cross-referring to the Nesbitt text and its 
detailed figures. The characters were then used to work through the 
polyclave key. I chose Taeniatherum caput medusae, as a large-seeded grass 
that I had specimens of from one of my Turkish sites.

Amazingly, out of a class of 28, 25 people got the identification correct 
and two others got the identification wrong for the right reason (i.e. 
identified the wrong character but followed the key correctly to a logical 
endpoint). Only one person failed dismally. The exercise was very useful as 
it gave the students a taste of what we do and introduced the idea of 
systematic and well-reasoned identifications. It was also a good trial run 
of the key. Most students found the polyclave structure very useful, as 
they could work out exactly what they had done wrong, or at least narrow 
down the possibilities. So it was a great teaching medium as well as a 
research tool. I was very surprised at the outcome, fearing abject failure 
and a counter-productive, morale -destroying exercise.

I'd be interested to know if anyone else has tips on some useful texts and 
exercises for introductory archaeobotany teaching, especially for wood 
charcoal.

Andy



ENGLAND FOR THE CUP!!!!

Dr Andrew Fairbairn
Lecturer in Archaeology,
School of Social Sciences,
Michie Building,
The University of Queensland,
QLD 4072,
Australia

Tel:  +61 (0)7 3365 2780
Fax: +61 (0)7 3365 1544
http://www.ansoc.uq.edu.au/

Associate Editor
Vegetation History & Archaeobotany: 
http://www.springer.com/west/home?SGWID=4-102-70-1103691-detailsPage=journal|description|description

**Unless stated otherwise, this e-mail represents only the views of the 
Sender and not the views of The University of Queensland**

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