Using floristic characteristics of contemporary vegetation for identifying archaeological sites: Tel 'Eton archaeological site as a test case

Yair Sapir, Yuval Sapir, Avraham Faust

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the last century, crosstalk between archaeologists and botanists had focused on the identification of plants remnants, such as charcoal or seeds found in archaeological inventory. Here we demonstrate how botany can play a fundamental role in identifying ancient landscape by using current vegetation. Identifying the loci of ancient human activity is the initial step of any archaeological study, enabling analyses such as settlement patterns, economic structures and land use, as well as devising excavations strategy. While mounds (tells) are standing out of their surroundings and are easily detected, other sites are hidden underground, and require various methods for detection. The cost and intensity of these methods vary, but most are time-consuming, require a team of specialists, and show somewhat limited success, leading archaeologists to seek new methods of site detection. Here, we describe a study of vegetational parameters at Tel 'Eton (Israel), located in a semi-arid climatic region, where vegetation is mostly herbaceous, mainly comprised of annual plants. We compared above ground biomass, species richness and species composition among four plots in Tel 'Eton and its surrounding. Two plots were located where ancient settlement found in a previous study, one on top of the mound and one below, where a "lower city" was previously identified. The other two plots were located in similar topographies, namely one on a hill and the other below, but in never-settled areas. While above ground biomass was similar between settled and not-settled plots, species richness was significantly higher in settled plots (40 and 32 species in settled plots, versus 28 and 9 species in non-settled) and species composition was significantly different between them. Our results demonstrate that loci of buried remains of human activity significantly differ from non-settled ones, hence providing the basis for an above ground indirect method of identification of human remains. We propose that floristic sampling of ground-level vegetation may allow archaeologists to identify buried sites, and hence increase the validity of various types of archaeological analyses, such as creating maps of settlements, which rely on the identification of sites without excavating them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-68
Number of pages9
JournalIsrael Journal of Plant Sciences
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.


  • Archaeological survey
  • herbaceous plants
  • semi-arid climate
  • species diversity
  • species richness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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