The fossil record of skeletons of small organisms, typically 1–3000 μm in size, extends into the deep Precambrian. Some of the earliest putative microfossils are prokaryotic organisms from the Archaean, while the earliest putative eukaryote microfossils are known from the Palaeo-proterozoic. Eukaryotic microfossils include unicellular forms such as foraminifera and radiolarians, and animals such as ostracods and conodonts. While widely applied to biostratigraphical and palaeoenvironmental investigations in geological contexts, microfossils have an increasing importance in archaeological and forensic studies. Their small size, skeletal robustness, remarkable range of morphologies, wide distribution and huge numbers in small samples have proved decisive in the provenance of archaeological and forensic evidence. Further, they provide environmental context for the increasing influence of humans on the landscape from Palaeolithic to Classical cultures.
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The Archaeological and Forensic Applications of Microfossils: A Deeper Understanding of Human History
Microfossils are an abundant component of the sedimentary rock record. Their analysis can reveal not only the environments in which the rocks were deposited, but also their age. When combined, the spatial and temporal distribution patterns of microfossils offer enormous utility for archaeological and forensic investigations. Their presence can act as a geological ‘fingerprint’ and the tiniest fragment of material, such as a broken Iron Age potsherd, can contain a microfossil signature that reveals the geographical source of the materials under investigation. This book explores how microfossils are employed as tools to interpret human society and habitation throughout history. Examples include microfossil evidence associated with Palaeolithic human occupation at Boxgrove in Sussex, alongside investigations into human-induced landscape change during the Holocene. Further examples include the use of microfossils to provenance the source materials of Iron Age ceramics, Roman mosaics and Minoan pottery, in addition to their application to help solve modern murder cases, highlighting the diverse applications of microfossils to improving our understanding of human history.