Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Phytoliths, Starch Grains, Ubaid, Archaeobotany, Mesopotamia

Major Advisor

Alexia Smith

Associate Advisor

Natalie Munro

Associate Advisor

Sally McBrearty

Associate Advisor

Deborah M. Pearsall

Associate Advisor

Gil Stein

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Agriculture and subsistence practices are believed to play an important role in the development of social complexity in Mesopotamia. However, very little palaeoethnobotanical research has been conducted to test this assumption. This dissertation examines comparative plant materials from Southwest Asia and archaeological materials from the 2008–2010 excavations of the Ubaid period regional center of Tell Zeidan, Syria to provide the first microbotanical insights into subsistence practices during the formative stages of social complexity in northern Mesopotamia.

This dissertation is composed of four separate, but related, research projects. The first two examine phytolith and starch grain production patterns in taxa common to Southwest Asia (181 non-grass taxa for phytoliths and 64 taxa for starch grains). Knowledge of these patterns is important to understand the range of identifiable plants and their parts that may have been used by the people of Tell Zeidan. The results of these first two projects demonstrate that a small number of taxa produce plant microfossils that are either diagnostic of their plant part or at the genus level.

The third study examines phytoliths from sixteen sediment samples from Ubaid period domestic contexts of Tell Zeidan to reveal use areas and assess fuel use. The burning of wild grass husks and leaf/stem tissues found in hearth waste suggests that crop byproducts were used as a fuel source.

In the fourth study, six dental calculus samples from five individuals from the Halaf/Ubaid transition, Ubaid, and Late Chalcolithic 2 period were analyzed to explore the potential for dental calculus research at Zeidan. Recovery of phytoliths, calcium spherulites, pollen, charcoal, and fungi from the calculus reveals the complex nature of dental calculus formation and potential insights into diet and/or dental hygiene practices during the Halaf/Ubaid transition. The overall results of this dissertation provide the first ever phytolith analyses of Ubaid period materials and lay the foundation for future plant microfossil research into the complex relationship between emerging social complexity and subsistence in northern Mesopotamia.