Potentials and limitations for the identification of outdoor dung plasters in humid tropical environment: a geo-ethnoarchaeological case study from South India

Potentials and limitations for the identification of outdoor dung plasters in humid tropical environment: a geo-ethnoarchaeological case study from South India

By: Gur-Arieh S., Madella M., Lavi N., Friesem D.E.
Published in: Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences
SDGs : SDG 02  |  Units: Marine Sciences  | Time: 2019 |  Link
Description: Dung has been an important material used by humans since at least the early Neolithic Period. It accumulated within dome sticated animal enclosures and it was used as fuel and fertiliser as well as construction material. While the formers were studied in details, to date, the use of dung as a construction material received less attention. Here, we present a geo-ethnoarchaeological pilot study aimed at understanding the archaeological formation processes of outdoor dung-plastered floors and the possibility to identify dung markers. We studied two house terrace in a rural village from a humid tropical environment in South India (Western Ghats). Sediment samples were collected from the plastered terrace surfaces, the terraces embankment and from forest soil controls. Multi-proxy analysis of the samples included infrared spectroscopy, phytolith and dung spherulite quantification, loss on ignition, elemental analysis and micromorphological analysis. The plastering of the floors was made by mixing a quantity of dung with water and by spreading the slurry unevenly across the terrace. This result in formation of a 0.1- to 0.5-mm-thick dung crust that the analyses showed to be rich in humified organics but with very low concentrations of phytoliths and dung spherulites. The careless spreading of the dung slurry, however, resulted in localised deposition of dung lumps that displayed relatively high concentrations of phytoliths, dung spherulites, organic matter, phosphorus and strontium. The generally low preservation of dung markers seems to be related to pre- and post-depositional processes. Forest arboreal plants are low phytoliths producer, having therefore little input of these siliceous bodies in the animal faeces. Post depositional processes included trampling, sweeping and water runoff that caused severe mechanical weathering, resulting in the heavy decay of the dung crust and the removal of dung residues from the terrace surfaces. In addition, the acidic conditions of a humid tropical environment likely promoted the complete dissolution of dung spherulites. This study provides new data and insights on the potentials and limitations of dung identification in outdoor settings in humid tropical environments. We suggest possible directions for advancing the study of archaeological dung used as construction materials. © 2018, The Author(s).

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