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Paleoethnobotany Lab

Paleoethnobotanical Collections

Archaeologically recovered plant remains and/or data from 112 sites representing 10 states and 9,000 years are curated at the museum, and a separate collection of corn elements exceeding 100,000 spans the past 2,000 years. Quaternary plant microfossils, macrofossils, and modern comparative seed and fruit collections numbering more than 1,850 species round out this nationally significant research area.



The great majority of plant remains have been recovered since the late 1960s when systematic sampling and “flotation” of very small charred plant parts (e.g., seeds) from surrounding site matrix (soils) became more common. A separate archaeologically recovered maize (corn) collection consists of more than 100,000 corn elements ranging in age from the first century AD to the Historic period. Specimens from the first and second centuries are among the oldest known in eastern North America.

Much of the museum’s archaeologically recovered seed/fruit collection was derived from large, long-term Tennessee Valley Authority reservoir projects, such as the Tellico project in East Tennessee, and the Normandy and Columbia projects in Middle Tennessee. Important assemblages have also been derived from National Science Foundation-funded projects in Tennessee, as well as excavations funded by the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, Tennessee Department of Transportation, and government and privately funded projects in several additional states.

In addition to the archaeologically recovered research collections, the paleoethnobotany facility maintains 837 accessions of Quaternary plant macrofossils (leaves, twigs, seeds, etc.) recovered from twenty important eastern North American sites, some dating back 20,000 years. There are also two modern comparative seed collections; one composed of 2,891 accessions representing 1,817 species, and the other composed of 723 accessions representing 659 species.

Access to the collections is restricted to researchers. For more information, see Conducting Research at the McClung.

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