Archaeobotany Research Group
The archaeobotany group is composed of researchers studying human/plant interactions in the past by means of both macro- and microbotanical morphological methods. The team has ongoing research projects that span most of the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere, but largely focuses on the understudied regions of Central Eurasia. There are ongoing projects among these scholars that deal with contexts stretching back to the terminal Pleistocene and forward to the Mongol conquests or the end of the medieval period.
The team consists of researchers representing a diverse array of backgrounds from archaeology to paleontology, including students, postdocs, and more senior scholars interested in paleoecology and paleoeconomy. The team is closely tied to the ongoing research conducted under the Paleoecology Group, the FEDD group, and the DAE group.
With more than 20 ongoing studies spanning more than 10 countries, members of the Archaeobotany Research Group are asking a variety of questions related to past ecologies and economies. For example, the study of wood charcoal preserved in archaeological sites is helping elucidate the early cultivation of trees in desert oases and changes in woody vegetation communities across the foothills of Inner Asia. Additionally, the study of seed and fruit remains recovered from archaeological sites along the ancient Silk Road trading routes is helping clarify the processes of dispersal of plants across the Ancient World. Members of the archaeobotany group are exploring pressing research questions as varied as: 1) what role did the intensification of agricultural systems play in the gradual increase in social complexity; and 2) what cultural changes accompanied the earliest adoption of agriculture. The team is particularly interested in studying the domestication and dispersal of plants, which leads into their connections with the broader FEDD and DAE projects.
The Fruits of Eurasia: Domestication and Dispersal project has been funded by an ERC grant awarded to Spengler, who, in turn, has recruited top scholars to explore the questions of where and when the foods you eat every day originate. The research agenda of FEDD links the biological and social sciences and has incorporated a wide range of archaeological science specialists. The team is focused on long-generation perennials, as there has been a bias in domestication studies towards cereals and legumes. The team seeks to identify the origins of some of the most familiar fruits in your kitchen and to better understand the processes of evolutionary change that resulted from human interaction. Interestingly, many of these tree crops appear to originate in the mountains of Central Asia and are tied into the ancient Silk Road trade routes as a vector or dispersal.
Additionally, the archaeobotany group is closely integrated with the Domestication and Anthropogenic Evolution (DAE) independent research team. This team was started in 2022 as part of an independent research group under the direction of Spengler, through the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology. This team is particularly interested in exploring the timing and causes of the evolution of domestication traits in plants and animals. The team is also focusing heavily on species that have received less attention by scholars in the past, for example studying the domestication traits of early commensal animals or weedy plant species as opposed to the heavily studied cereals. Spengler is interested in mingling a multidisciplinary approach with new theories in domestication studies to better understand one of the most important phenomena that allowed humans to culturally expand into the modern world.
Follow up with ongoing research and current publications at: https://robertnspengler.com/