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
ENGLAND FOR THE CUP!!!!
Dr Andrew Fairbairn
Lecturer in Archaeology,
School of Social Sciences,
The University of Queensland,
Tel: +61 (0)7 3365 2780
Fax: +61 (0)7 3365 1544
Vegetation History & Archaeobotany:
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