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Calla McNamee, Ph.D. Malcolm H. Wiener Laboratory for Archaeological Science American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Calla McNamee received her M.A. in 2003 and Ph.D. in 2013 from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada where her work focused on the integration of microbotanical and geoarchaeological analyses. She is currently an affiliated scholar at the Malcolm H. Wiener Laboratory of Archaeological Science at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens where she is analyzing starch grains and phytoliths extracted from ground stone and ceramic artifacts.

Collecting a sample for starch and phytolith analysis from an Early Minoan IB quern from Mesorachi in eastern Crete.

Starch grains and phytoliths are microbotanical residues that are often preserved on the surfaces of artifacts and can provide information on the processing and primary production of staple resources, such as wheat, barley, and legumes. These residues are extracted in several washes of the artifact’s surface, beginning with an initial removal of the adhering sediment with a toothbrush. An ultrasonic bath or an electric toothbrush is then used to remove deeply embedded microbotanical particles, which are considered indicators of tool use. Because the microbotanicals are on the surface of the artifact and within the sediment residue, it is best to sample artifacts that have been left unwashed after excavation. The extracted sediment is then processed further in the lab, where a heavy density liquid is used to separate the phytoliths and starch grains from the other particles. Samples are mounted on a microscope slide and examined at 500x magnification. Morphological differences exist among microbotanical particles, and they are used to distinguish plants by family, genus, and sometimes even species.

McNamee has been conducting this type of analysis on artifacts dating from the Final Neolithic through the Classical period. Her recent work includes collaborations with: PlantCult, a European Research Council Project based at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki; MEANING, a University of Cyprus project on the citadel complex of Ancient Paphos; and PoN, a University of Cincinnati project on the Palace of Nestor excavations. With the Study Center on Crete, she is conducting analyses of ceramics and stone tools from the sites of Mesorachi, Sopata, Papadiokampos, and Chryssi. Preliminary results from the ground stone artifacts at the sites of Mesorachi and Sopata have provided evidence for the processing of wild grasses in addition to the processing of agricultural grains, such as wheat, during the Final Neolithic and Early Minoan I periods. The identification of other microfossils, particularly algae, in the assemblage at Mesorachi have also pointed to the agricultural use of the nearby alluvial drainage.

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