Numerous sources have different terms for phytoliths, and even go so far as to separate phytoliths into two groups (Schiffer 1983: 227). This is not the case in this paper. The term phytolith will refer to a general definition that is broad and encompasses both of these groups; a phytolith is an opal or silica plant cell (Rapp and Hill 1998: 93). No source is completely sure of the biological purpose of the silica in the plant cells. Phytoliths occur from silica in ground water being absorbed through plants roots and integrated into the living plant (Hertz and Garrison 1998: 55). This silica fills the spaces in the cell and hardens. These cells can endure long after the life of the plant, even through decay and burning (Renfrew and Bahn 2004: 249). However, phytoliths are susceptible to highly alkaline soils, erosion, corrosion, mechanical wear (ploughs) and water damage (Schiffer... [continues]
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