Micrograph of the Month: Layers of reeds

A little bit late this month as I've recently moved office and only just had my microscope camera software installed on my new PC. Incidentally this is also the reason I haven't added scale bars to these images, as I haven't had the chance to calibrate the magnification for the software (you have to tell the computer what the magnifications are by taking measurements of known lengths on a micrometer). The image to the left is at x10 magnification, the one on the right is x20. Here we are looking at some ashy deposits from the Babylonian city of Tell Khaiber, Iraq (being excavated as part of the Ur region project). These are absolutely full of plant phytoliths and grass derived microcharcoal. The structure of these conjoined cell phytoliths is beautifully preserved. I have highlighted the multiple layers of plant tissue that are likely to be from reeds (a bundle of stems?). The stacked bulliform phytoliths are typical of reeds, and are often seen as individual cells. Here we can see how they fit in to the wider cell structure of the plant tissue. The overall deposit has loads of these in it, all randomlly orientated and mixed, suggesting that this has been swept up and redeposited rather than forming in situ (where you would expect some alignment to the orientation).
You can read the 2014 excavation report for the site here.

The Tell Khaiber pilot micromorphology study has been possible through a grant awarded by the University of Edinburgh Munro Research Grant.