ARCHWILD: The EAA Community of Research on Wild Plant Resources

Dawn Elise Mooney1 and María Martín-Seijo2
1Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger, Norway
2Institute of Heritage Sciences, Spanish National Research Council, Spain

The EAA Community of Research on Wild Plant Resources, known as ARCHWILD, was established in 2017 at the EAA annual meeting in Maastricht, NL. Since its inception, ARCHWILD has been co-chaired by María Martín-Seijo (Tenured Scientist, Institute of Heritage Sciences, Spanish National Research Council) and Dawn Elise Mooney (Associate Professor, Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger). We currently have around 58 members, but more are always welcome: to receive updates, log in on the EAA website and subscribe.

Plants have been vital to humans throughout our past: we use them for food, fuel, fibres and textiles, pigments and dyes, construction, household objects, art, medicine and more. However, the contribution of plants to past societies is often overlooked, and this is particularly true of wild plants. Archaeobotany as a discipline often focuses on cultivated plants, especially cereals, which preserve well when charred and are relatively abundant on archaeological sites. It is often harder to find clear evidence for human interactions with wild plants, which often only leave ephemeral traces in the archaeological record. This creates a false divide: there has been significant work on the importance of wild plants in hunter-gatherer societies, but wild plants continued to be important in agricultural societies. ARCHWILD works address this imbalance and raise the profile of plants in archaeology.

We aim to:

  • Promote the conservation and study of plant remains and their value as biocultural heritage
  • Promote innovative archaeobotanical research across all periods and regions
  • Promote activities to engage the general public with archaeobotanical research
  • Promote a better integration of archaeobotanical studies in historical and archaeological interpretations
  • Draw attention to archaeobotany, specifically to the procurement, use and consumption of wild plant resources including resins, lichens, fruits, seeds, fibres, wood and charcoal, among others.
To achieve these aims, we first and foremost hope to create a research network around the study of wild plant exploitation in the past. We have so far been successful: our community members are active and engaged, and many new collaborations have come out of the meetings of this community. Co-chairs Martín-Seijo and Mooney met through ARCHWILD and now collaborate on a four-year research project funded by the Research Council of Norway. The community has also led to smaller-scale collaborations: Figure 28 shows ARCHWILD member Shalen Prado (Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, Canada) pointing out a starch grain from a possible wild starchy tuber from a sample taken from a Viking Age soapstone vessel during a recent workshop at the University of Stavanger. In the course of the workshop, museum staff learnt to sample artefacts for microbotanical remains. This method has huge potential but has been little used in Scandinavia; the connections made through ARCHWILD will now directly lead to its application in archaeological research in Norway.


Figure 28
. ARCHWILD member Shalen Prado (University of Saskatchewan, Canada) points out a starch grain from a starchy tuber during a workshop at the Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger, Norway in September 2023. Photo by Dawn Elise Mooney.

ARCHWILD already constitutes an active research milieu. In its six years of activity so far, members have organised 11 sessions at EAA Annual Meetings and have published two special issues in Environmental Archaeology and Journal of Archaeological Science Reports (with a further one in progress at the time of writing), and one edited volume. We also continue to organise workshops, seminars, and conferences in our own fields of expertise. Recently, members of ARCHWILD have also been involved in setting up the Archaeological Woodworking Network, which aims to advance knowledge and understanding amongst researchers working on the use of wood for technological purposes in the archaeological record. We hope to continue to foster communication and collaboration amongst researchers in Europe and further afield over the years to come, working towards our long-term goal of creating a vibrant international research network.

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