Dr Alex Pryor of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology works on the role of plant foods during the last ice age, in the European Upper Palaeolithic, specifically plant underground storage organs (USOs) and the carbohydrates they provide.
This research has included building a reference collection of roots and USOs of plants grown in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, burning them, and photographing the charcoal residue using a scanning electron microscope to give clear images of surviving cellular structure, particularly of features such as surviving vascular tissues and druse crystals.
These photos are being used to identify and learn about carbonised fragments of USOs recovered from a Palaeolithic campsite excavated in the Czech Republic, dated to 30,000 years ago.
Pryor, A.J.E., Steele, M., Jones, M.K., Svoboda, J., Beresford-Jones, D.G., 2013. Plant foods in the Upper Palaeolithic at Dolní Vĕstonice? Parenchyma redux. Antiquity 87, 971-984.