Looking at Phytoliths in Archaeological Soil and Sediment Thin Sections

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Traditionally, phytolith research focusses on the study of bulk samples collected during archaeological field campaigns. However, phytoliths are frequently reported by soil micromorphologists studying their archaeological soil and sediment thin sections. Within these thin sections all components, including the phytoliths, are captured in the position they had in the original soil and sediment profiles. This opens perspectives towards a better understanding of phytolith depositional and post-depositional histories, but also towards the identification of invisible archaeological remains, such as previous vegetal floor covers. Furthermore, the study of phytoliths in thin sections opens up prospects for morphometrical analysis. Despite a series of limitations – the phytolith record is not concentrated, issues of visibility, the fact that phytoliths cannot be rotated and are cut at random angles – the study of phytoliths in thin sections is a rewarding effort. Beyond being a feasible task, it is also a promising asset, given a full integrative approach involving both phytolith specialists and micromorphologists.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Archaeology
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Part of this research has been financed by Urban.Brussels. The authors acknowledge the organisers of the 12th IMPR for the opportunity to contribute to the session ‘Phytoliths in geoarchaeology and micromorphology’ and this special volume. They would also like to thank the participants of the Archaeological Soil Micromorphology Workshops (WASM), the Integrated Microscopy Approaches in Archaeobotany (IMAA), the Virtual Micromorphology (ViMi) meetings and Monica Alonso-Eguiluz for discussing different aspects of phytoliths in soil and sediment thin sections. They would like to acknowledge Terry B. Ball for his precious advice and dedication. The authors also thank Karin Nys and Mateusz Krupski. Finally, the authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© Association for Environmental Archaeology 2023.

Copyright 2023 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • phytoliths
  • soil micromorphology
  • taphonomy
  • morphometry
  • distribution patterns
  • floors
  • agriculture


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