Archaeology: An Introduction - 4th Edition 2002
The Online Companion: updated November 2007


CHAPTER 5 : Archaeological Science

>> CHAPTER OVERVIEW

5.1. THE NATURE OF SCIENCE

5.2. THE ENVIRONMENT

5.3. CLIMATE

5.4. THE GEOSPHERE

5.5. THE BIOSPHERE

5.6. ARTEFACTS AND RAW MATERIALS

5.7. CONSERVATION

5.8. STATISTICS

5.9. EXPERIMENTAL ARCHAEOLOGY

 


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5.1. THE NATURE OF SCIENCE

It is easy to recognise archaeological science when it draws upon laboratory procedures that take place in institutions whose main activities are not archaeological. However, many museums and universities possess their own scientific laboratories which use identical methods for entirely archaeological purposes. Scientific archaeology is quite another matter, for like archaeologists, scientists do not possess a uniform philosophical and theoretical outlook.

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5.2. THE ENVIRONMENT

Environmental archaeology is one of the clearest demonstrations of multidisciplinarity to be found in archaeological science, and its results contribute data to an extraordinarily wide range of issues.

  • Quaternary Paleoenvironments and Paleoclimate Studies An introductory course at Colby College, Maine, with links to informative web sites.
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) 'NERC funds world-class science in universities and our own research centres that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. We are tackling the 21st century's major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. We lead in providing independent research and training in the environmental sciences.'
  • Centre for Wetland Archaeology at the University of Hull. 'Its main research is concentrated on the Humber Wetlands Survey, a large scale survey programme funded by English Heritage.' Links to interesting data from a region.

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5.3. CLIMATE

Climate is the end result of interactions between a number of 'spheres' - atmosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, biosphere (air, rocks, water, ice, and living things). The complexity of the ways in which they produce current conditions makes it easy to see why reconstructing past climate is a difficult business, and why it is even harder to explain change.

  • NOAA Paleoclimatology Program 'Paleoclimatology is the study of past climate, for times prior to instrumental weather measurements. Paleoclimatologists use clues from natural "proxy" sources such as tree rings, ice cores, corals, and ocean and lake sediments to understand natural climate variability. NOAA Paleoclimatology operates the World Data Center for Paleoclimatology and the Applied Research Center for Paleoclimatology, with the goal to provide data and information scientists need to understand natural climate variability as well as future climate change.' (National Climatic Data Center, USA).

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5.4. THE GEOSPHERE

5.4.1. Geology

5.4.2. Soils

 

5.4. THE GEOSPHERE

It is particularly easy to appreciate the importance of interactions between atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and the geosphere. We are surrounded by landforms shaped by erosion by wind, water and ice, while plants (wild and domesticated) flourish or struggle according to the characteristics of surface soils formed by various forms of erosion.

 

5.4.1. Geology

The earlier the period of archaeology that is being studied, the more important geology and geomorphology are likely to be - particularly in phases related to Ice Ages.

  • Oldupai Gorge & Laetoli 'Some 30,000 years ago, splitting of the earth’s surface by violent geological activity and millennia of erosion by seasonally flowing streams incised the nearly 250 foot (90m) canyon known as Olduvai Gorge. These natural forces exposed a remarkably rich geological chronicle of human ancestry and the evolution of the Serengeti ecosystem. It was here that Mary and Louis Leakey unearthed the first well-dated artifacts and fossils of some of our earliest human ancestors after over 30 years of painstaking work.' (© Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority).
  • Koobi Fora Research Project and Paleoanthropology Research in Northern Kenya 'Research in the area has revealed a complex history of volcanism, tectonics and sedimentary cycles preserving fluvial and lake phases of the basin. Some 16,000 fossil specimens have been collected from the Turkana basin, almost 10,000 from the Koobi Fora Region. This includes an impressive 350 hominid specimens from the basin and this has contributed significantly to our present understanding of human origins and hominid diversity through time.' (Koobi Fora Research Project)

 

5.4.2. Soils

An understanding of soils adds further detail, for soils with differing colours, textures and other characteristics are formed and changed by both natural and human activities.

  • SOIL/SEDIMENT ANALYSIS: BACKGROUND TO ANALYTICAL METHODS (PDF) 'This document provides background information on the principal types of soil/sediment analysis undertaken by UWLAS and presents details of the analytical methods employed' (Archaeological Services, University of Wales, Lampeter)

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5.5. THE BIOSPHERE

5.5.1. Plants

:: Pollen and phytoliths

:: Domestication of plants

:: Human impact upon vegetation

:: Tree rings

5.5.2. Animals

:: Identification of vertebrate bones

:: Interpretation

:: Biostratigraphy and seasonality

:: Biomolecular studies

5.5.3. Fish

5.5.4. Shells

:: Biomolecular studies

:: Land molluscs

5.5.5. Insects and other invertebrates

5.5.6. Humans

:: Burials

:: Pathology

:: Diet

:: Genetics

 

5.5. THE BIOSPHERE

Although it takes place in conditions determined by climate and the geosphere, the evolution and expansion of human populations in the past and the present is bound up with effective exploitation of the biosphere.

5.5.1. Plants

Botanical identifications are time-consuming and expensive, but are extremely important in the interpretation of an individual site or vegetation in general.

----- Pollen and phytoliths

The most productive technique that has been applied to archaeological plant remains is undoubtedly palynology - the study of pollen. Since pollen reflects general changes in vegetation over long periods, palynology is of considerable interest to climatologists, ecologists, botanists and geographers as well as to archaeologists.

  • Palynology Page University of Arizona Geosciences - see ARCHAEOLOGICAL PALYNOLOGY in particular
  • Phytoliths: An Archaeobotanist's Best Friend Informative page, with illustrations. 'Phytoliths are microscopic pieces of silica that form in the cells of many kinds of plants. They can be used to identify plant remains in archaeological and other ancient contexts, including deposits from underneath lakes that record shifts in vegetation and climate through time.' (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

----- Domestication of plants

The domestication of wild plants in the early stages of settled farming is a process of profound significance that may be investigated through the remains of plants.

  • Plant Evolution Research 'We are particularly interested in the evolutionary dynamics associated with the domestication process - arguably the most important evolutionary event of the current epoch. We are interested in both reconstructing the evolutionary history of plant movements as well as their genomic evolution. We use a range of state-of-the-art techniques from molecular archaeobotany to phylogenomics to help us understand where our crop plants came from, and how their genomes have changed over time and in response to the pressures of domestication.' (Allaby Research Group, University of Warwick)
  • Amazing grass: developmental genetics of maize domestication (PDF article) 'Crop plants were domesticated by prehistoric farmers through artificial selection to provide a means of feeding the human population. This article discusses the developmental genetics of crop domestication and improvement, including the historical framework and recent approaches in maize and other grasses.' (E. Vollbrecht and B. Sigmon , Iowa State University)
  • The objectives of wheat domestication 'Wheat is the World's major crop in terms of food production. Of the total food produced by the World's top 30 crops (based on dry matter), about 23.4% comes from wheat, followed by maize (21.5%) and rice (16.5%)' (Iziko Museums of Cape Town)

----- Human impact upon vegetation

Focus upon Neolithic farming has tended to distract attention from the effects that hunter-gatherers had already had upon woodlands.

  • Prehistoric Settlement Impacts 'Shortly after settlement in the 13th century, the original closed forest cover of New Zealand was reduced by nearly 40% in one of the most rapid and complete landscape transformations anywhere in the world. Paradoxically, the extent of forest loss shows no clear relationship with population density; many sparsely inhabited regions were more severely affected than those densely settled. In our work we address the issue of how this deforested landscape was achieved and maintained, and why.' (Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research, New Zealand)

----- Tree rings

Besides their value for dating, tree rings provide a continuous annual record of climate. The correlation between modern meteorological records of temperature and precipitation and the width of individual rings seems sufficiently close to allow them to be used to make estimates of conditions in the past before such records began

  • Tree Rings: A Study of Climate Change 'These annual rings can be counted to tell the age of the tree, and because there is more growth under good conditions, the growth patterns can be studied to determine the conditions a tree lived through such as forest fires, drought, insect attack, floods, or slopes. The study of tree rings and climate is called dendroclimatology.' (NASA/Athena K-12)
  • Paleoclimatology: Climate Close-up 'While cave rocks and ice cores provide a long-term, annual record of past climate ... some other climate proxies can offer a detailed record of seasonal temperature or rainfall changes. As they grow from season to season, coral reefs in the oceans and trees on the land both record small variations in the climate.' (NASA Earth Observatory)

5.5.2. Animals

Mammals (including humans), birds, reptiles and fish are normally represented only by bones, unless special conditions such as desiccation, freezing or waterlogging have preserved soft tissues. Other kinds of invertebrate animals can be traced by shells (molluscs) or parts of their exoskeletons (crustacea, insects, arthropods etc.) Even microscopic organisms such as parasites and bacteria can be detected in suitable samples.

  • Faunal resources 'What kinds of animals were hunted in the past? What role did they play in the diet? Were there other things besides food that animals provided? These are some of the kinds of questions that archaeologists have answered based on the kinds of animal remains found at sites.' Excellent range of illustrations of bones and shells from an informative introductory site The Process of Archaeology created by Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center (MVAC).
  • Quaternary Entomology Page Colby College, Maine: 'The study of subfossil beetles (Class Insecta, Order Coleoptera) is becoming an important tool in understanding past environmental change. Virtually any non-marine sediment that has identifiable organic remains will include remains of insects, and many of these will be beetles.'

----- Identification of vertebrate bones

Whoever is identifying animal species must have experience of archaeological samples, and will probably need to consult reference collections of modern bones, as well as finds from other sites.

  • Boxgrove Fauna Excavation of animal remains from a Palaeolithic site in Sussex - see below for human remains found at the same site
  • The Animal Bones from Caerwent PDF file of undergraduate dissertation by Kevin Smith, a BSc Archaeology graduate from Bournemouth University
  • Animal Bone Metrical Archive Project 'ABMAP is a database of measurements of bones of domestic animals from more than 100 archaeological assemblages from excavations in southern Britain. The mammals included are cattle, sheep/goat, sheep, goat, pig, horse and dog and the bird included are domestic fowl and goose. The assemblages are from all periods from the Neolithic to the eighteenth century AD, with most from later periods. The database gives zooarchaeologists and others the opportunity to find data with which to compare their own individual bone or assemblage and to research size change in domestic animals from prehistoric to the present day.' (Archaeology Data Service (ADS))

----- Interpretation

It is important to understand the nature of a collection of bones. Accompanying finds, such as datable pot sherds, from excavated contexts may indicate whether they formed over a long or short period, and the condition of the bones themselves may also help explain the circumstances of the formation of archaeological deposits (taphonomy).

  • Taphonomic Analysis 'Taphonomic analysis attempts to reconstruct the chronology of a variety of postmortem processes that have produced a faunal assemblage or a subset of the assemblage.' From the useful Archaeozoology and Taphonomy web site (ZAT Consulting/April M. Beisaw)

Biostratigraphy and seasonality

In some cases the study of animal bones merges imperceptibly into dating methods. Seasonality studies can give particularly interesting results at sites that were occupied permanently - especially when bones from different phases can be compared.

  • The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain PDF file that puts biostratigraphy in context: 'Part of the evidence we are using is that of small mammals such as voles and mice that have evolved through time and can be used to place the sites in relation to each other. Biostratigraphy (the dating of strata using fossil evidence) is very important in trying to establish the dates of some of the earliest British sites because there are virtually no absolute dating methods that can be applied to them. One of these sites is Westbury-sub-Mendip, in Somerset. Biostratigraphic research applied to layers containing artefacts found in a huge cave there has revealed that the site could be a whole interglacial cycle older than Boxgrove (that is, about 600,000 years old).' (Natural History Museum/Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project)
  • Seasonal Hunting Family Sequence Of Activities 'As these families followed the Beverly caribou herd in its annual migrations between the Saskatchewan winter forest and its tundra calving ground west of Baker Lake, we know the month when these tasks occurred because we sectioned and analysed the cementum rings of caribou teeth. Like tree-rings, cementum rings are thin and dark in winter and thick and light in the growing seasons.' (Archaeological Gender-Based Spatial Analysis/Bryan C. Gordon)

Biomolecular studies

Studies of DNA recovered from animal bones offer great potential for confirming difficult identifications of species or sex, and for studying the processes of domestication by examining the genetic links between wild and domesticated animals.

  • Deep freeze DNA 'Palaeontology and archaeology are being radically transformed by the study of ancient DNA, a field that has taken off over the past few decades. Researchers have managed to extract preserved fragments of genes from human remains many thousands of years old, as well as from the bones of extinct animals as diverse as mammoths, Siberian cave lions and bison, Mauritian dodo and New Zealand moa birds. This DNA can be used to study evolution in action by comparing ancient genes to modern ones, working out which modern relatives extinct species are related to, discovering where ancient humans settlers originally came from, and many other uses beside'. (Wellcome Trust Bioarchaeology Fellowship)

5.5.3. Fish

Fish bones appear on archaeological sites on dry land as a direct result of human activity. Unfortunately fish bones have a much lower chance of survival than animal bones because of their small size and cartilaginous consistency.

  • HIGH PASTURE CAVE, SKYE: ANALYSIS OF THE FISH REMAINS 'The fish remains present at the cave therefore are considered to be the remains derived from species that were caught by humans to be consumed on site. Fishing from rocks for young saithe would have produced young cod, and other species such as mackerel. The use of boats and hand-lines would have been required for the catch of mature cod.' (Ruby Ceron-Carrasco - University of Edinburgh)
  • The Fish Eaters of Viking Age Orkney 'Moreover, some Viking Age middens have yielded as much fish bone as mammal bone, the latter comprising the cattle, sheep and pigs we might expect of an agricultural community.' (Orkney Archaeological Trust/James Barrett)

5.5.4. Shells

 

  • FUTURE DIRECTIONS IN THE ANALYSIS OF FRESHWATER BIVALVES IN ARCHAEOLOGY Interesting article about methods and potential. 'In order to address such questions, it is imperative that archaeologists treat shellfish remains as they would any other type of artefact: that is, such remains must be systematically collected, processed and curated. ' (Evan Peacock, Research School of Archaeology and Archaeological Sciences, Sheffield)

Marine shells

Striking evidence of marine exploitation in the past is visible in the large number and great size of mounds of discarded shells (middens), often several metres high, found along coastlines all over the world.

  • Coastal Shell Middens and Agricultural Origins in Atlantic Europe 'Our aims in this project are to develop methods of analysing shell middens and marine molluscs, to provide new palaeoenvironmental and dietary information, to throw new light on the wider role of marine resources throughout prehistory, and to test competing theories of long-term socio-economic change. Work will focus on the analysis of the marine molluscs, an abundant but under-utilised source of data on palaeoeconomy and palaeoenvironment, drawing on a wide range of molluscan taxa and on material from Ireland, Scotland, England, Portugal, Spain, Brittany and Denmark.' Follow the links to lots of information about these informative coastal sites (research project based at the University of York)

Land molluscs

Snails range from large edible species to forms only visible and identifiable with the help of a microscope. Species recovered from ancient stratified soils or geological deposits reflect variations in the climate during successive Ice Ages and warmer periods.

  • Snail stuff 'There are about 118 species of snail (and slug) in the British fauna. They frequent different habitats, and although no individual species is habitat-specific, the examination of an assemblage (palaeo-faunal collection), may enable the nature of the past vegetation cover, and thus the landscape characteristics, to be determined. We can define the broad differences between open country, rock rubble and woodland habitats, but detailed analysis (including a good pedological/sedimentary record may allow us to distinguish between arable land, short-turfed (ie, grazed) grassland pasture, meadowland, long/ rough pasture within in the open country class. We can distinguish between open woodland and full canopy closed woodland, and deciduous woodland with leaf litter on the other hand. Changes in these environments may represent clearance or abandonment (vegetation regeneration) which provide the important setting for prehistoric activity.' Go on from this introduction to more about land snail analysis. (Allen Environmental Archaeology)

5.5.5. Insects and other invertebrates

Insect remains give insights into the living conditions, diet and health of humans in the past, in addition to reflecting environmental change.

  • Insect Remains in Archaeology Follow links to specific projects: Gwent Levels, Wales; Invereskgate, Scotland; One Poultry, London (Birmingham University Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity)

5.5.6. Humans

The questions asked about human remains tend to be rather wider than those asked about animal bones or shells, which were normally disposed of along with domestic rubbish.

  • Human Bones from Archaeological Sites Guidelines for producing assessment documents and analytical reports: 'The purpose of this document is to establish guidelines for best practice for the production of assessment documents and analytical reports on human skeletal remains excavated from archaeological sites. It is written primarily for practising osteologists taking part in archaeological fieldwork projects.' (English Heritage Centre for Archaeology)
  • Major fossil find at Sterkfontein Caves "The world’s first-ever find of an entire hominid skull - and its skeleton - has been discovered at Sterkfontein by Dr Ron Clarke of the Wits Palaeo - Anthropology Research Group. It is dated at about 3,5 million years old. The find is stunning." (Wits Communications Service, December 1998)
  • Primate Evolution and Morphology Group at The University of Liverpool Studies of walking and chewing amongst early hominids from their bones. See especially How Lucy walked and the Laetoli footprints for fascinating details of bones and study methods.
  • Boxgrove, Sussex Detailed illustrated account of a shin-bone and tooth from this important palaeolithic site
  • 3D facial reconstruction and visualization of ancient Egyptian mummies using spiral CT data. Soft tissues reconstruction and textures application. 'Focussing on the problem of facial reconstruction, we chose a mummified head in good condition, from the Egyptian Section of the Archaeological Museum in Florence (inv. N. 8643). ... C14 calibrated dating of a sample of the hair gave a probability distribution between 339 b.C. and 201 b.C.' (Giuseppe Attardi (Università di Pisa) et al.)

----- Burials

Objects placed in graves help to date burials and may indicate ritual activities or hint at the social status of the deceased. Where soil conditions are suitable, burials allow complete skeletons to be recovered for study, and this offers the possibility of establishing the cause of death, which demands the expertise of a pathologist.

----- Pathology

Pathologists examine deformities, and evidence of disease ranging from malnutrition, arthritis and dental decay to the erosion of bone through leprosy, as well as injuries, whether healed or fatal, in much the same way that a police forensic specialist would work on a modern body.

  • Forensic anthropology Incomplete but informative website: 'Bones are the framework of the vertebrate body and thus contain much information about man's adaptive mechanisms to his environment. The study of evolution essentially would be impossible if bones were eliminated as a source of data. In summary, the answer is that bones often survive the process of decay and provide the main evidence for the human form after death. Skeletal evidence also has the potential to provide information on prehistoric customs and diseases.' (University of Utah Health Sciences Center)
  • MSc in Human Osteoarchaeology 'Those receiving an MSc degree in Human Osteoarchaeology will be equipped with the knowledge and hands-on experience that allows them to carry out the analysis of human bones, meeting an increasing demand in archaeology.' Detailed outline of the subject as taught as a postgraduate course at the University of Edinburgh.

----- Diet

Diet may be investigated through the analysis of carbon isotopes, or trace elements such as strontium, contained in bones; their ratios or levels may indicate a preponderance of seafood, maize or rice.

  • They were what they ate: Reconstructing ancient diet 'The key technique is that of isotope analysis. Common elements such as carbon and nitrogen exist in different isotopic forms, which are present at stable ratios within the environment. Within living organisms, however, the isotopes are processed and integrated into body tissues in subtly different ways. ... Analysis of these ratios in tissues can thus provide information about diet, position in the food chain and other factors. In archaeological specimens, therefore, isotope analysis can provide clues to ancient dietary habits.' (Wellcome Trust project by Tamsin O’Connell at the University of Oxford)
  • Bone Chemistry: Principles of Stable Isotope Analysis Detailed account of methods and applications (Robert H. Tykot, USF College of Arts and Sciences)

----- Genetics

DNA in particular suffers problems of contamination, and only survives in fragments, which must be multiplied in the laboratory before any interpretation can take place.

  • Mitochondrial DNA Clarifies Human Evolution 'Recent DNA studies of several populations suggest that modern humans: originated in Africa; appeared in one founding population; evolved around 170,000 years ago; migrated to other parts of the world to replace other hominids' (ActionBioscience.org original article by Max Ingman/Uppsala University, Sweden)
  • Assessing ancient DNA studies PDF file of an article that advocates great caution in dealing with results (M. Thomas P. Gilbert et al., TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution Vol.20 No.10 October 2005)

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5.6. ARTEFACTS AND RAW MATERIALS

5.6.1. Methods of examination and analysis

:: Microscopic examination

:: Analysis and characterisation

5.6.2. Stone

:: Obsidian

5.6.3. Ceramics

5.6.4. Metals

:: Bronze

:: Iron

:: Roman coins

 

5.6. ARTEFACTS AND RAW MATERIALS

Any archaeological object, whether found casually or during a controlled excavation, poses questions about its date, origin, method of manufacture and function. Some may be answered by a combination of common sense and experience, but scientific analysis offers further insights.

5.6.1. Methods of examination and analysis

Scientific analysis is of most interest when it contributes to broader archaeological interpretation. Analysis is not restricted to objects; structures such as buildings offer many possibilities for the analysis of stone, bricks and mortar.

----- Microscopic examination

Not all scientific analysis requires complex analytical methods; for several centuries geologists have used petrography - visual observation by microscope - for characterising stone in terms of its minerals and structure.

  • Electron Microprobe Analysis in Archaeology 'Electron microprobe analysis (EMPA), also known as electron probe microanalysis (EPMA), is an analytical technique that combines scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and compositional analysis using x-ray spectrometry. The ability to determine structure and chemistry of samples makes EMPA very versatile. This is a dominant analytical technique in geology, but it is not as commonly used in archaeology despite similar materials in studied both fields.' Lots of examples, superb illustrations. (Ellery Frahm, University of Minnesota)
  • materials analysis Image of a glazed tile of the Seljuk period, from the site of Kubad Abad, Turkey: 'In addition to our well appointed facilities for carrying out optical microscopy (including biological, petrographic and metallurgical studies), we have a CamScan Maxim 2040 variable pressure scanning electron microscope. Our SEM has a large chamber which is ideally suited for imaging and the analysis of non-conductive objects without coating.' (Cardiff Archaeology and Conservation)

----- Analysis and characterisation

Characterisation aims to provide individual 'fingerprints' for sources of raw materials (whether stone, metal ores or clay deposits) by detecting significant trace elements; this is however by no means possible for all materials.

  • MURR Archaeometry Lab 'We specialize in trace-element analysis (i.e., chemical fingerprinting) of archaeological specimens for the purpose of determining their provenance (source) by making available the following analytical techniques – instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA), x-ray fluorescence (XRF), and inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). We are one of only a few archaeometrically oriented laboratories in the world with access to these three powerful analytical techniques in a single location.' (Archaeometry Laboratory at the University of Missouri Research Reactor). Follow the links to Analytical Services for explanations of techniques and their applications.

5.6.2. Stone

Besides the more sophisticated analytical techniques described below, traditional geological methods have much to offer the archaeologist, whether in the context of early prehistoric cultures that relied heavily on the use of stone for tools or in more complex societies - such as the Roman Empire - where fine building stone was transported over long distances.

----- Obsidian

This volcanic glass occurs widely in both the New and Old Worlds, and it has attracted considerable attention from archaeological scientists. Like flint, it has excellent working properties for chipping, flaking and grinding into tools with sharp cutting edges.

  • Introduction to Obsidian Characterization Studies 'Although a variety of physical, optical, petrographic, and chemical attributes are used to characterize volcanic glasses, the use of trace element abundances to "fingerprint" obsidian sources and artifacts has shown the greatest overall success. X-ray fluorescence analytical methods, with their ability to nondestructively and accurately measure trace element concentrations in obsidian, have been widely adopted for this purpose' (Northwest Research Obsidian Studies Laboratory, a commercial service at Corvallis, Oregon, USA)
  • International Association for Obsidian Studies 'From here, you can find out about the IAOS and explore technical information related to obsidian characterization ("sourcing") studies and obsidian hydration dating methods.'

5.6.3. Ceramics

Ceramic petrology involves examination under a microscope of thin sections cut from samples of pottery in exactly the manner used to examine stone by petrography.

  • Ceramic Petrology 'Petrology is the study of rocks and minerals and is based on the identification of minerals and their associations. Ceramic petrology is a specialised sub-discipline which uses the same techniques and knowledge to study burnt and fired clay and archaeological artefacts made from this material.' (Alan Vince)
  • Research at the Fitch Laboratory Current projects in ceramic analysis (The Fitch Laboratory, British School at Athens)

5.6.4. Metals

  • Historical Metallurgy Society produces a number of very useful Archaeometallurgy Datasheets on topics such as Metallographic examination, Chemical analysis of metalwork and metalworking debris, and X-radiography and archaeometallurgy
  • Archaeometallurgy (PDF document) English Heritage Centre for Archaeology Guidelines: 'Archaeometallurgical investigations can provide evidence for both the nature and scale of mining, smelting, refining and metalworking trades, and aid understanding of other structural and artefactual evidence.They can be crucial in understanding the economy of a site, the nature of the occupation, the technological capabilities of its occupants and their cultural affinities. In order that such evidence is used to its fullest, it is essential that archaeometallurgy is considered at each stage of archaeological projects, and from their outset.'

Bronze

The form of finished artefacts, together with surface traces left by flaws in the casting and final working by the bronzesmith, usually reveals the production method. Metallographic examination under a microscope can clarify the kind of mould used (metal, stone or clay) and distinguish between cold-worked and cast objects.

Iron

Iron differs fundamentally from copper, lead and the less common non-ferrous metals such as silver and gold in that cast iron did not appear until the medieval period in Europe, although it was produced somewhat earlier in China. For this reason all the traces visible in pre-medieval iron objects are the result of laborious hammering by smiths.

  • WEALDEN IRON RESEARCH GROUP 'Iron was made in the Weald from pre-Roman times until the beginning of the 19th century. ... During the first part of the Roman occupation, and again, in the 16th and early-17th centuries, the Weald was the most important iron-producing region in the British Isles.' Includes analyses of iron slag produced in modern experiments: COMPARISON with ANCIENT SLAGS

Roman coins

The use of information derived from the analysis of metals is not restricted to the prehistoric period. Roman metallurgy has been extensively studied through examination of ores, ingots, coins and manufactured objects.

  • Analysis of Roman Silver Coins, Augustus to Nero (27 BC - AD 69) ''Silver coins formed the backbone of currency in the Roman Empire and are likely to have been the main media for long-distance monetary exchange. Imperial fiscal policies and financial problems can be detected through metallurgical analysis of imperial silver coinages. Roman emperors manipulated the silver content (fineness) of the coinage to solve short-term financial problems frequently caused by government overspending. For the most part, this manipulation involved the reduction of the silver content of the coinage – debasement - in conjunction with a drop in weight' (Matthew Ponting and Kevin Butcher/Archaeological Data Service (ADS))

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5.7. CONSERVATION

5.7.1. Ancient objects

5.7.2. Historic buildings and archaeological sites

 

5.7. CONSERVATION

Although it is one of the most important aspects of archaeological science experienced by visitors to sites and museums, good conservation is normally invisible, and therefore easily overlooked.

  • National Center for Preservation Technology and Training 'Working in the fields of archeology, architecture, landscape architecture and materials conservation, the Center accomplishes its mission through training, education, research, technology transfer and partnerships.' (US Department of Interior)

 

5.7.1. Ancient objects

Objects in museum collections require constant attention, whether during storage or in public displays. It is essential that an exact identification of the composition and structure of an object is made before conservation begins.

  • Restoring ancient Egyptian artifacts... by computer  'One of my hobbies is to restore Egypt's heritage using computers. With modern photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop it is possible to perform restorations on ancient Egyptian artifacts without even touching them. It is done by retouching the artifact on photo, a "virtual restoration" so to speak.' (Hans van den Berg)
  • Archeological Preservation Research Laboratory '…is a research laboratory within the Texas A&M University (TAMU) Department of Anthropology, which works closely with both the Anthropology Department and the TAMU Nautical Archaeology Program. Research at the APRL facilities has been directed towards the development of new processes for the stabilization and conservation of organic artifacts.'
  • The care of waterlogged archaeological leather English Heritage Guidelines: No 4

7.2. Historic buildings and archaeological sites

Newly excavated structures soon suffer from exposure, and require permanent supervision if they are to be left on display.

  • Masonry Conservation Research Group Robert Gordon University - excellent links to other heritage conservation & related sites
  • The Herculaneum Conservation Project 'The cities and villas buried by Vesuvius in AD 79 represent an archaeological heritage of unique importance. At the same time, they are subject in particularly acute form to the problems of conservation that afflict all such sites. The very features that make the little town of Herculaneum such a vivid evocation of the past – the survival of houses to several stories, and the astonishing preservation of organic matter like wood, cloth and papyrus – also render the site exceptionally difficult to preserve for future generations.' (British School at Rome)

 

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5.8. STATISTICS

Archaeology is full of statements based on intuition rather than calculation. Simple statistics are useful for checking almost any comparisons, such as claims that the dimensions of a type of artefact change over time. Probability testing is appropriate in these circumstances.

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5.9. EXPERIMENTAL ARCHAEOLOGY

5.9.1. Artefacts

5.9.2. Sites and structures

 

5.9. EXPERIMENTAL ARCHAEOLOGY

Along with the use of statistics, one by-product of increasingly scientific approaches to archaeology in the second half of the twentieth century was a trend towards designing practical experiments.

5.9.1. Artefacts

Experimental archaeology is a useful companion to scientific analysis in the study of artefacts, for their composition and structure may suggest methods of manufacture.

  • The Afon Ystwyth Experimental Archaeology Project The project was carried out on the Afon Ystwyth in mid-Wales, at two study sites: Llanilar and Llanafan, and explored … taphonomic processes relating to the transport, transformation and deposition of stone tools within gravel-bed river environments.'  (School of Human and Environmental Sciences, The University of Reading)
  • Bastian Asmus This site is concerned with the interaction of science, archaeology and handicrafts; especially in the field of copper and its alloys. Through various activities, such as crafts demonstrations, craft events and seminares I explore and explain the realm of ancient craft techniques, for example lost wax casting or the reconstruction of prehistoric tools.' Follow the links to superb illustrations of experimental reconstructions.
  • Reverse Engineering the Ceramic Cooking Pot 'Ceramic cooking pots throughout the world vary in exterior surface treatment from smooth to roughly textured. An intriguing example of this variation occurred in the Puebloan region of the southwestern United States where cooking pots changed from scraped plain to highly textured, corrugated vessels between the seventh and eleventh centuries AD, and then reverted back to plain-surfaced by the fifteenth century. To investigate potential cost and performance differences between plain and corrugated cooking pots, a set of controlled experiments were performed, which document manufacturing costs, cooking effectiveness, and vessel durability.' (Experiments for PhD dissertation in anthropology at the University of Washington by Christopher D. Pierce, 2004)

 

5.9.2. Sites and structures

Large-scale structures such as ships, buildings or earthworks can be investigated through experiments and simulation studies, normally by means of reconstructions based on evidence derived from excavations. If possible this evidence should be supplemented with ethnoarchaeological data, or, in the case of more recent historical reconstructions, information and illustrations from archives.

  • Developing Experimental Approaches in Archaeology 'The project is focusing on the importance of multi-disciplinary, controlled, and replicable experimental research as a key component of human and environmental sciences through its contributions to the understanding of biological, chemical and physical processes, and the formation of material/sedimentary records. Within its initial phase, the project is undertaking pilot research to generate preliminary data sets, intended to support the future development of long-term projects appropriate to the timescales required by robust experimental research.'  (School of Human and Environmental Sciences, The University of Reading)
  • Pharaonic Village 'Just a few miles from the center of Cairo is a time machine waiting to take you on an fantastic journey to the days of the Pharaohs, a time brought to life by an incredible group of actors and actresses, faithful and exact reproductions of buildings, clothing, and lifestyles; and of course, the redoubtable Dr. Hassan Ragab. Dr. Ragab has worked for over twenty years to create the most precise living recreation of the golden days of Pharaonic Egypt, and now he invites you to join him on this fascinating journey to the past.' (The Ministry of Tourism, Egypt)
  • Butser Ancient Farm '...is a replica of the sort of farm which would have existed in the British Iron Age circa 300 BC.'
  • Plan of Rome A model of Rome in the fourth century AD (Paul Bigot, Universite de Caen)
  • Olympias trireme project Sea-trials of the full-scale replica of an ancient Greek warship

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