Defining the extent of human activity around settlement sites is of particular significance in archaeology as it may define peripheral activity areas and thus the site's boundary. In Near Eastern archaeology, site boundaries are usually defined by the presence of architectural and other macroscopic archaeological remains. Here we use the phytolith concentrations and morphotype assemblages, as well as changes in the mineralogical composition of the sediments in and around the small Iron Age site of Izbet Sartah in central Israel to determine the site boundaries. The site has a shallow stratigraphy and highly bioturbated sediments. Coincidental changes in the clay/quartz ratio and phytolith concentrations define the boundary between high and low impact anthropogenic activities. This boundary is generally some 20 m away from the architectural remains. In addition, we note that the phytoliths in the site's core show clear evidence of having been affected by chemical dissolution (i.e., diagenesis), while those in the vicinity of the site's boundary have undergone severe diagenesis. These observations indicate that phytolith diagenesis will affect site boundaries determination, as well as phytolith-based reconstructions of activity areas. We propose that phytolith preservation depends on the initial amount of available silica, the depth of burial with respect to the active root area of modern vegetation, and the presence of fresh phytoliths in the soil.
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