Saturday, 27 May 2017

Paisley Caves - notes from the field part 2

Back from the field now and making sense of all the photos and paperwork. As well as taking samples from Paisley Caves itself, we also spent a day doing a survey of the local vegetation and collecting samples for a botanical reference collection. Part of the project involves analysis of pollen and other plant remains from sediments and coprolites, and whilst there are several available collections and published material on the likely species that we will find, it is always helpful to build a project specific reference collection, and this will be added to the growing library of material based in the Wolfson lab at Newcastle. This will be one of the major tasks undertaken by project research associate John Blong, and he will be collaborating with project affiliate Katelyn McDonough, who analysed material from Paisley for her Masters and is currently working on botanical remains at the nearby Connelly Caves for her PhD. This is the first fieldwork where I have had the chance to put my newly acquired plant taxonomy skills to the test - back in January I attended a NERC training course in Belize organised by the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, which involved an introduction to taxonomy as well as procedures for collecting, pressing and cataloguing modern plant specimens. We had a great day hiking to the top of the ridge and looking at lots of beautiful desert plants. The local biogeography of the Paisley ridge is interesting. On one side, where the cave entrances are located, the face is very steep and rocky, and covered mostly with shrubby vegetation. The other face has a gentler slope, with deeper very sandy soils, and had a greater diversity of vegetation including a whole range of desert flowers. It makes me wonder how people who occupied the caves so long ago knew which plants were useful and which to avoid - how long did it take to develop this knowledge, and how much did this influence how people moved around within the landscape?

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