Cereal bran

The fragments mostly are less than 0,2 mm in diameter and can only be identified under a microscope with a 100fold magnification. They are of a brown colour and have a typical unregular edged outline. At most of them only the seed coat (testa) of the cereal grain has been preserved, but in less cases also parts of the pericarp (transverse cells) or even the protein layer (aleuron) are present.

The testa is the most resistant cell layer of the fruit envelope. It is lucent and of a light or yellow brown. In the case of Triticum species it consists of several cell layers from which the two outermost are constructed with elongated cells, which cross at right angles or diagonally. The colourless, thin testa of oat consists of elongated cells in groups of different orientation.

The transverse cells cross the testa cells in pancake-like packages. Differences between the transversal cells of the various cereal species are shown by Körber-Grohne & Piening 1980. In case of heated or half-charred grains, sometimes the regular roundish cells of the aleuron can be observed.

References among others:

  • Körber-Grohne 1991
  • Körber-Grohne & Piening 1980
  • Holden 1990
  • Dickson 1987

Waterlogged cereal bran

Testafragment of a cereal under the transmitted microscope. Photo: U. Maier.
Another testafragment of a cereal. Photo: U. Maier.

Cereal chaff

Waterlogged cereal chaff in principle shows the same characteristics as the charred material Charred Seeds - Identification. Noteworthy however is, that even under permanent waterlogged conditions uncarbonized chaff may be in a bad state and is then difficult to identify. The remains usually have a light brown colour and a soft or spongy texture. Sometimes they are broken in halves. If glumes and internodes vanished and only the nodes have remained an identification of species or even types is no longer possible. Uncharred threshing remains of bread wheat, durum wheat or naked barley usually consist of single internodes, while longer rachis fragments are rare. Seedcoats of whole grains are frequently among these remains. Uncharred rests of the dehuscing process are glume bases and spikelet forks of glume wheats sometimes mixed with a low value of whole spikelets and grain seedcoats.



Uncharred linseeds are often found in waterlogged material, but in quite different preservation states. If the seeds are complete, all five layers of the seedcoat are present: epidermis, ring cells, longitudinal fibres, transversal cells and pigment cells. In that state the seeds are of a brown colour with a light narrow edge surrounding them. Although they are flat they look just the same like fresh ones. If the seeds have passed a digestive system they may be ruptured or may have lost some of their seedcoat layers. In an extreme corrosion state the seeds are totally transparent, because only the epidermis has survived.

References among others:

  • Jacomet et al. 1989
  • Maier 2001, 199ff.

Waterlogged linseeds

Linseeds still in their capsule. Sipplingen, Germany. Photo: IAR project.
Linseeds from the neolithic site Sipplingen, Germany. Left: heated or roasted seed, middle: waterlogged seed, right: decayed or disrupted seed. Photo: IAR project.
Linseed fragment with lighter ringcells and darker pigment cells. Photo: IAR project.

Flax capsules

Flax capsules are nearly spherical and consists of five capsule compartments. Each compartment hosts two seeds, which are separated from each other by a flimsy partition wall. The solid compartment walls can split into two equal longish segments, which are pointed at their top. In the archaeobotanical material mostly these capsule segments and segment halves are found, while complete capsules and complete compartment walls are rare. They are of a light brown or yellowish brown colour. The very delicate transparent partition walls, which only consist of one cell layer, are even rarer.

References among others:

  • Jacomet et al. 1989
  • Maier 2001, 199ff.
Charred flax capsules still on their stems from neolithic Hornstaad Hörnle IA. Photo: U. Maier.
Partition wall of a waterlogged flax capsule from the neolithic site Alleshausen-Grundwiesen. Photo: U. Maier.

Flax stems

Flax has very thin stems, which in diameter are not broader than about 2 mm. At the basis the stems merge into a curved hypocotyle and the main root, ahead they have very fine branches. In cross-section the stem consists of a thick inner wooden part, followed by the cambium, the cortex and the epidermis. The flax fibres are situated in the outer parts of the stem between the epidermis and the cambium. In prehistoric waterlogged lakeshore sites, fragments of the stems have been frequently found. The remains of flax processing, the "shives", often occur as small heaps of parallel lying stem fragments with lengths between 1 and 10 cm. They can be round in profile, totally flat or longitudinally splittet. In most of the findings only the wooden part of the stem is left, sometimes encased by parts of the epidermis. The epidermis consists of rectangular cells and is rich in stomata.

References among others:

  • Maier 2001, 199ff.
  • Maier 2004

Fragments of flax stems after the breaking process

Pieces of flax stems or "shives" are by-products of the flax breaking process. Photo: IAR project.
Waterlogged pieces of flax stems or "shives" from the neolithic site Alleshausen-Grundwiesen. Photo: U. Maier.

Different parts of waterlogged flax stems

Branches of flax from the neolithic site Alleshausen-Grundwiesen. Photo: U. Maier.
Hypocotyl of a flax stems from the neolithic site Alleshausen-Grundwiesen. Photo: U. Maier.

Waterlogged flax stems

Flax stem in cross-section. Alleshausen-Grundwiesen, Germany. Photo: U. Maier.
The same cross-section with higher magnification. The inner wooden part can be seen as well as rests of the cambium and parts of the epidermis. The fibres which have been under the epidermis have been removed by the flax processing. Photo: U. Maier.
Epidermis of a flax stem with epidermis cells and guard cells. Alleshausen-Grundwiesen. Photo: U. Maier.



Waterlogged pod fragments of peas (Pisum sativum), calyces and hila may be found in waterlogged archaeological sites, which are remains of the shelling of peas. In Hornstaad Hörnle IA, Germany, pod-concentrations of 1000 fragments per liter sediment occured in form of centimeter thick layers. Pod fragments of peas have a light brown colour and a parallelogram-like outline. They get this shape because of the long, slender cells of the parchment-layer orientated angular to the pod. This cell layer is at the inner surface of the pod, while at the outside sometimes the venation is preserved.

In the medieval waterlogged sediments of York uncharred pods and testa fragments of broad bean (Vicia faba) have been found as well as calyces, flowers, pods and pod fragments of not identified leguminosae.

References among others:

  • Kenward & Hall 1995, fig. 191, p. 684
  • Maier 2001, p. 73f.
Pods from peas with venation. Left: waterlogged piece from neolithic Hornstaad Hörnle IA. Right: fresh one. Photo: IAR project.
The parchment-layer of pea pods with angular tears along the long cells. Left: waterlogged piece from neolithic Hornstaad Hörnle IA. Right: fresh one. Photo: IAR project.
Pea pods with calyx. Left: waterlogged piece from neolithic Hornstaad Hörnle IA. Right: fresh one. Photo: IAR project.

Testa of pulses

The testa of Leguminosae is characterised by having a palisade of thick-walled prismatic cells. In surface view these cells are polygonal. The cells of the subepidermal layer are hour-glass shaped and for some species they are ribbed. The testa cells may be diagnostic for individual species or groups of species. Dickson could identify fragments of Vicia faba and Lens esculenta in a sewage-filled ditch from a Roman fort in central Scotland.


  • Dickson 1989, p. 139 and pl. 4 and 5

Stems of pulses

Layers of uncharred fragmented stems of Vicia faba were found in the Feddersen Wierde at the North Sea coast. The fragments had lengths between 2 and 9 cm and the stems were 5-13 mm thick. Also basic parts with roots and upper parts with pods have been found. Lengthways the stems were ribbed characteristically, in the cross-section loosely scattered groups of vessels alternate with the pith rays.


  • Körber-Grohne 1967, p. 174ff., pl. 39-41

Crab apple, pears and other fruits


Together with seeds or seed fragments of crab apple, cores (endocarps) are regularly found in waterlogged contexts. They may derive from faeces or waste deposits. Complete endocarps are about 10 mm long, flat and half-moon-shaped. The surface of the exterior is matt, while the inside is noticeable glossy. Even small fragments can easily be identified. Under the microscope it can be seen, that the glossy inside derives from packages of long, thick-walled fiber-cells, which are orientated in very different directions. Pear endocarps (Pyrus communis) are different. They consist of thin-walled fiber-cells and have not been found as yet in archaeological layers.

References among others:

  • Gassner et al. 1989
  • Kenward & Hall 1995, fig 191, p. 682
  • Maier 2001,p. 213
Part of an apple core (endocarp) from the neolithic site Sipplingen, Germany. Photo: IAR project.
Microscopic view on an apple core. Packages of long fiber-cells can be seen. Sipplingen, Germany. Photo: IAR project.

Fruit coats

Fragments of fruit coats of different Rosaceae have not often been found in waterlogged material. Their size can vary from less than 1 mm to 10 mm. Often these coarse fragments are coiled. The cells of the fruit epidermis mostly are polygonal and secondary often divided by a thin wall. In the neolithic pile dwelling of Hornstaad fragments from rose hips could be identified, in the medieval town of York pieces of Prunus fruit coats, that might be from sloes or plums.

References among others:

  • Gassner et al. 1989
  • Kenward & Hall 1995, fig 191, p. 682
  • Maier 2001, p. 214

Waterlogged fruit coats

Fruit coat of crab apple with thick-walled epidermis cells from Hornstaad Hörnle IA. Photo: U. Maier.
Fruit coat of the Rosaceae-type from Alleshausen-Grundwiesen. Photo: U. Maier.


Stem and leave epidermis of mistletoe

Epidermis fragments can easily be recognized because of their yellow colour and their cell structure. The epidermis of Viscum album consists of one layer of rectangular or square cells arranged in lines. The outer cell walls are distinctly convex like papillae and they have a very thick cuticula. The epidermis of mistletoe twigs is thick, coarse and tough and has a brown-yellow colour. In the subfossile state it gets brittle and the broken fragments have sharp edges. The epidermis of leaves is much thinner, smoother and of a green-yellow colour. Often the epidermis of whole leaves is preserved.


  • Kühn & Hadorn 2004, p. 335
  • Maier 2001, p. 135ff., p. 208

Waterlogged epidermis of mistletoe

Leaf fragment of mistletoe. Hornstaad Hörnle IA. Photo: U. Maier.
Leaf tips of mistletoe. Hornstaad Hörnle IA. Photo: U. Maier.
Epidermis cells of a mistletoe twig. Hornstaad Hörnle IA. Photo: U. Maier.

Berries of mistletoe

The white mistletoe berries are about 5 mm in diameter. In waterlogged material only their epidermis or fragments of it have been found. The epidermis is very thin, whitely and transparent and consists of thin-walled polygonal cells. Small dark spots in between them are made by groups of glandular cells.

References among others:

  • Jacomet et al. 1989, p. 289
  • Maier 2001, p. 208
Epidermis fragment of a mistletoe berry. Hornstaad Hörnle IA. Photo: U. Maier.


  • Dickson, C. A. (1987). The identification of cereals from ancient bran fragments. Circaea 4, 2, 1987, 95-102.
  • Dickson, C. (1989). The Roman army diet in Britain and Germany. In: Körber-Grohne, U. und Küster, H. (Eds.), Archäobotanik. Symposium der Universität Hohenheim (Stuttgart) vom 11.-16. Juli 1988. dissertationes Botanicae 133: 135-154.
  • Gassner, G.,Hohmann, B., Deutschmann, F. (1989). Mikroskopische Untersuchung pflanzlicher Lebensmittel. 414 p. Stuttgart/New York.
  • Holden, T.G. (1990). Transverse cell patterns of wheat and rye bran and their variation over the surface of a single grain. Circaea 6 (2): 97-104.
  • Jacomet, S., Brombacher, Ch., Dick, M. (1989). Archaeobotanik am Zuerichsee. Berichte der Züricher Denkmalpflege, Monographien 7. Zürich 348 p.
  • Kenward, H.K., Hall, A.R. (1995). Biological Evidence from Anglo-Scandinavian Deposits at 16-22 Coppergate. The Archaeology of York. Vol. 14: The Past Environment of York, Fascicule 7, p. 435-797.
  • Körber-Grohne, U. (1967). Geobotanische Untersuchungen auf der Feddersen Wierde. In: Haarnagel, W. (ed.), Feddersen Wierde, Band I, Römisch-Germanische Kommission des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts zu Frankfurt am Main und Niedersächsisches Landesinstitut für Marschen- und Wurtenforschung in Wilhelmshaven. Wiesbaden, 355 p.
  • Körber-Grohne. U. (1991). Bestimmungsschlüssel für subfossile Gramineen-Früchte. In: Probleme der Küstenforschung im südlichen Nordseegebiet 18 (Hildesheim 1991), 169 ff.
  • Körber-Grohne, U. und Piening, U. (1980). Microstructure of the surfaces of the carbonized an non-carbonized grains of cereals as observed in scanning electron and light microscopes as an additional aid in determining prehistoric finding. Flora 170: 189-228.
  • Kühn, M., Hadorn, Ph. (2004). Pflanzliche Makro- und Mikroreste aus Dung von Wiederkäuern. In: Jacomet, S. et al.: Die jungsteinzeitliche Seeufersiedlung Arbon/Bleiche 3. Umwelt und Wirtschaft. Archäologie im Thurgau, Band 12. Veröffentlichungen des Amtes für Archäologie des Kantons Thurgau, 327-350.
  • Maier, U. (2001). Archäobotanische Untersuchungen in der neolithischen Ufersiedlung Hornstaad-Hörnle I A am Bodensee. Siedlungsarchäologie im Alpenvorland VI. Foschungen und Berichte zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Baden-Württemberg 74, 9-384. Stuttgart.
  • Maier, U. (2004). Archäobotanische Untersuchungen in jung- und endneolithischen Moorsiedlungen am Federsee. In: Ökonomischer und ökologischer Wandel am vorgeschichtlichen Federsee. Hemmenhofener Skripte 5, 71-159.