Sunday, June 28, 2009

Handheld xrf and archaeology

I'll have a unit on loan from Bruker this summer to try on ceramics and maybe soils at the Etruscan site of Poggio Colla where I've been working. Cool - thanks, Bruker!

Here's what another vendor, Niton, has to see about the possibilities of handheld xrf:

With new advancements in technology, archaeometry – or the collection of quantitative data from archaeological samples – is quickly becoming one of the most trusted methods in archaeological study. As the longtime industry leader in portable XRF analysis, Thermo Fisher Scientific is uniquely capable of providing handheld nondestructive testing solutions for art and artifacts in the field, in the lab, or on the museum wall.
NITON analyzers are ideal tools to aid in a variety of applications in art and archaeology, including:
Archaeological reconnaissance survey – obtain geochemical data instantaneously
Provenance – compare sources and artifacts, build databases, and much more
Restoration – match pigments and other materials for restoration quickly and accurately
Conservation – help identify how objects have been preserved in the past, and how to better conserve them for the future by looking at elemental composition data Cultural Resource Management – identify areas of historic human activity quickly and easily
NAGPRA Compliance – ensure that traces of toxic preservatives have been removed from artifacts prior to repatriation
Dating – glean important clues to the age of petroglyphs, alloys, and other materials through elemental analysis
Authentication – help authenticate a variety of art and artifacts using elemental data

Any success stories or warnings from my many readers?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

NSF Archaeometry grant to Cal State Long Beach

Carl Lipo's blog, Evolution Beach, reports on success at landing a grant from the NSF Archaeometry program.

This proposal, submitted by Hector Neff, Greg Holk (Geology) and Lipo provides funding for instrument upgrades, student support, and collaborative research support. The funding includes:

  • A Bruker Portable XRF spectrometer for chemical analysis.

  • A Costech ECS 4010 CHNSO Analyzer for isotopic analysis.

  • Subsidized research for collaborative archaeological projects. To be eligible for the subsidized rate, researchers will have to submit a CV and 3 – 5 page miniproposal describing the project and sampling design.

  • Visiting research program to support those who want to come to CSULB to conduct research involving highly innovative applications of LA-TOF-ICP-MS, and projects that innovatively use the isotope-rate mass spectrometer, the XRF or combine LA-TOF-ICP-MS with SEM/EDX/WDX.
Congratulations, Carl and colleagues! You've earned the respect of Prospector Pete.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Australian archaeometry book online

Good deal. The full text of:

New Directions in Archaeological Science
Terra Australis
Edited by Andrew Fairbairn, Sue O’Connor and Ben Marwick
ISBN 9781921536489 $49.50
ISBN 9781921536496 (Online)
Published February 2009

is available online.

Archaeological Science meetings will have a personality of their own depending on the focus of the host archaeological fraternity itself. The 8th Australasian Archaeometry meeting follows this pattern but underlying the regional emphasis is the continuing concern for the processes of change in the landscape that simultaneously effect and illuminate the archaeological record. These are universal themes for any archaeological research with the increasing employment of science-based studies proving to be a key to understanding the place of humans as subjects and agents of change over time.

This collection of refereed papers covers the thematic fields of geoarchaeology, archaeobotany, materials analysis and chronometry, with particular emphasis on the first two. The editors Andrew Fairbairn, Sue O’Connor and Ben Marwick outline the special value of these contributions in the introduction. The international nature of archaeological science will mean that the advances set out in these papers will find a receptive audience among many archaeologists elsewhere. There is no doubt that the story that Australasian archaeology has to tell has been copiously enriched by incorporating a widening net of advanced science-based studies. This has brought attention to the nature of the environment as a human artefact, a fact now more widely appreciated, and archaeology deals with these artefacts, among others, in this way in this publication.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


The National Environment Research Council of the UK used to publish a Science-Based Archaeology Newsletter. I have some old issues on my bookshelf. The NERC web pages still includes Science-based archaeology, although my casual perusal of the site doesn't easily reveal the scope of this endeavor. Sebastian Payne used to be the co-ordinator for the Science-Based Archaeology Newsletter, and he still writes columns for British Archaeology, which you can search for at the website of that magazine. See, for example, his recent article on forensic archaeology.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Archaeological Geology at GSA, Portland

The annual meeting of the Geological Society of America will be held in Portland, Oregon, 18-21 October, 2009.

Abstracts for contributions to the technical sessions are due August 11.

From the website of the Geological Society of America:

Sessions where Discipline Category = Archaeological Geology

T12. Holocene Alluvial Records: New Investigations of Archives of Millennial Change
GSA Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division
Tammy Rittenour, Joel Pederson
This session provides a venue for reporting new approaches and records regarding Holocene fluvial archives of millennial-scale and shorter-term climate response. Papers may include aspects of fluvial geomorphology, cosmogenic sediment yield, paleoflood hydrology, geoarchaeology, and geochronology.
Geomorphology; Quaternary Geology; Archaeological Geology
Submit an abstract to this session
T69. Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR-Applications for Solving Stratigraphic and Geoarchaeological Problems
Kelsey S. Bitting
Applications of ground-penetrating radar (GPR-to near-surface stratigraphic and geoarchaeological problems are wide ranging, but GPR remains under utilized. This session will bring attention to this technology and provide an opportunity to showcase unique and innovative methodologies.
Stratigraphy; Geophysics/Tectonophysics/Seismology; Archaeological Geology
Submit an abstract to this session
T131. Ancient Coastal and Subsea Sites: New Findings and Problems
GSA Archaeological Geology Division; Smithsonian Institution
Jean-Daniel Stanley , Daniel F. Belknap
The session focuses on ancient land sites and former anthropogenic features now submerged off world coasts, a topic directly applicable for archaeologists working offshore, sea-level change specialists and managers formulating protections measures for vulnerable coastlines.
Archaeological Geology
Submit an abstract to this session
T153. Geoarchaeology and Late Quaternary Landscapes of North American River Valleys
GSA Archaeological Geology Division; GSA Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division
Todd Grote, Lara Homsey
This session will focus on recent interdisciplinary investigations of North American river valleys occurring from the landscape to site-specific scale. Submissions should contribute to understanding the archaeological record and late Quaternary lowland landscapes.
Archaeological Geology; Geomorphology; Quaternary Geology
Submit an abstract to this session
T154. Geoarchaeology, Reconstructions of Paleoenvironments and Past Human- Environment Interactions
GSA Archaeological Geology Division; GSA Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division; GSA Sedimentary Geology Division; Paleontological Society
Kathleen Nicoll, Catherine Yansa
Analysis of sediment and fossil records inform interpretations of cultural activity and Late Neogene-Quaternary environments. This session welcomes interdisciplinary papers on geoarchaeology and allied methodologies that reconstruct past landscapes, environments, and the human footprint on natural systems.
Archaeological Geology; Geomorphology; Quaternary Geology
Submit an abstract to this session
T155. Geochemical Geoarchaeology: Artifacts and Contexts
GSA Archaeological Geology Division
Katherine A. Adelsberger, Cynthia M. Fadem
Geochemical methods increasingly provide the critical tools for understanding paleoenvironments, site formation processes, and human behavioral decisions. This session will highlight the variety of geochemical methods used in geoarchaeology across cultural and temporal boundaries.
Archaeological Geology; Geochemistry; Quaternary Geology
Submit an abstract to this session
T156. New Advances in the Theory and Application of Luminescent and ESR Dating
GSA Archaeological Geology Division; GSA Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division, GSA Structural Geology and Tectonics Division, Paleontological Society, GSA Structure Geology and Tectonics Division
Bonnie A.B. Blackwell, Joel Blickstein
This session will hightlight new theoretical developments and their applications within geology, paleontology, and archaeology for the thermoluminescent, optically stimulated luminescent, and ESR dating methods, including new applications for dating barnacles, foraminifera, and sedimentary deposits.
Archaeological Geology; Quaternary Geology; Paleontology, Biogeography/Biostratigraphy
Submit an abstract to this session
T157. Obsidian from Magma to Artifact: Geological and Archaeological Perspectives
GSA Archaeological Geology Division; GSA Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division; Geochemical Society
Ellery Frahm, Joshua Feinberg
This session brings together archaeologists and geoscientists from diverse fields -- geochemistry, igneous petrology, volcanology, geomorphology, and more -- to present on the topic of obsidian research, from magma formation and eruption to dating and sourcing artifacts.
Archaeological Geology; Petrology, Igneous; Volcanology
Submit an abstract to this session

Field trips related to archaeology:
405. Geology and Geo-Archaeology of Hells Canyon, Oregon and Idaho
Wed.-Sat. 14-17 Oct. US$850 (B, L, D, R, 3ON).
Cosponsored by Oregon Paleo Lands Institute.
Leader: Ellen M. Bishop, Oregon Paleo Lands Institute.
This adventurous trip explores Hells Canyon—North America’s deepest gorge—jet-boating through Class 4 rapids, with three days in a rugged, legendary landscape. Hells Canyon marks a dominant Pacific Northwest (PNW) suture between North America and accreted terranes. The canyon offers an extensive record of Native Northwest cultures dating to nearly 11,000 years ago, where geology and Native history intersect. Geology emphasizes the growth of the PNW cordillera and the evolution of understanding active margin accretionary processes. Archeology emphasizes Sahaptian and Numic sites in one of North America’s most harsh yet bountiful areas, along with cultural effects of climate shifts, and Nez Perce/Lewis & Clark sites. Schedule: Day 1: Travel to Clarkston, Washington, USA; Day 2: Jet boat into Hells Canyon—Kirkwood area, Cougar Bar, with overnight at Copper Creek Lodge; Day 3: Explore Deep Creek and High Bar with overnight at Copper Creek Lodge; Day 4: Explore Eureka Bar, then return to Clarkston and on to Portland with late arrival.
418. Archaeology and Geomorphology of the Oregon Coastal Zone
Fri.–Sat., 16–17 Oct. US$225 (L, R, 1ON).
Cosponsored by GSA’s Archaeological Geology Division.
Leaders: Loren Davis, Oregon State University; Steve Jenevein; Jay Noller.
The Pacific Corridor for an-American transhumanance is focus of this field trip along the central coastal zone of Oregon. Archaeology will be demonstrated and discussed in the context of paleoenvironmental interpretation of several complex sections involving marine terrace cover sediments, coastal eolian dunes, Coast Range debris flows, estuarine and fluvial deposits, ghost forests, and soils. The chronology of events sealing archaeological deposits, including floods, slope failures, and tsunamis will be presented, and evidence supporting the current understanding of the Coastal Corridor will be discussed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Magnetic properties abstracts from AGU

The last few abstracts from these two session on geophysics and archaeology, looking at magnetic properties at two type of archaeological materials.

The image is unrelated, other than it is a cool representation of magnetic properties of thin films.


Magnetic Susceptibility of Ancient and Modern Potsherds Using a Fast, Cheap and Portable Probe
Glover, P W (, Université, Département de géologie et de génie géologique, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada

It has been estimated that there exist over 100 million ancient potsherds in various collections worldwide, many of which have never been studied and for which the provenance is ambiguous or unknown. Indeed, many collections are extremely badly catalogued or completely mixed-up. We have been using a novel portable probe to measure the magnetic susceptibility and electrical conductivity of potsherds in the hope that this fast, cheap and portable measurement can provide data that will help to sort similar looking potsherds into sets in a manner which may help to define their provenance. The probe, which resembles a firearm, uses the Hall effect to make a non-destructive measurement on the potsherd. The probe is attached to an Dell Axim X51 PDA, which runs software that allows the measurement to be carried out and logged. Each measurement, which is made by pressing a button on the gun, takes only a few seconds. We have made measurements on three suites of ancient potsherds as well as a suite of modern potsherds that were created by using a garden centre and a hammer! In each case a set of 5 stacked measurements were taken on the inside and outside faces of the potsherd in two perpendicular directions. Potsherds which were either (i) so flat that the inside and outside could not be distinguished, (ii) so curved (radius of curvature less than 5 cm) that the probe tip could not approach the surface sufficiently closely, or (iii) smaller than the probe tip, were excluded from the suite of measurements. Each suite contained over 50 measureable potsherds. All measurements were completed within one day. In this pilot study we found that (1) each suite was represented by a normal distribution of magnetic susceptibility values, (2) the four different suites could be distinguished statistically on the basis of their magnetic susceptibility measurements, but (3) the distinction was not sufficiently powerful to separate all potsherds (i.e., there was a significant overlap of the susceptibility distributions). This seems to confirm that the method may be used to give additional information that can be used to help to provenance a potsherd, but the susceptibility measurement is not sufficient on its own. In addition, we found that (4) the electrical conductivity measurements depended upon the local conditions (mainly humidity) and was of no use in distinguishing between suites of potsherds. However, most interestingly, we found that (5) there is a statistically significant difference between the magnetic susceptibility measured on the inside face and that measured on the outside face for all three ancient suites of potsherd, but not for the modern potsherds. The reason for this is not currently known. One hypothesis is that the difference is due to the manufacturing style. Further studies are being planned to extend our database.

Magnetic Fingerprinting of Central Mediterranean Obsidian Source Groups
Weaver, I (, Department of Earth and Environment, Franklin & Marshall College, PO Box 3003, Lancaster, PA 17604-3003, United States
Sternberg, R (, Department of Earth and Environment, Franklin & Marshall College, PO Box 3003, Lancaster, PA 17604-3003, United States
Tykot, R H (, Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida, 4202 East Fowler Avenue, SOC 107, Tampa, FL 33620-8100, United States

The Central Mediterranean islands of Lipari, Palmarola, Pantelleria, and Sardinia are known to be the only sources of obsidian in that region (Tykot, 2002). The obsidian on each source island has a unique chemical composition (i.e., a fingerprint) that has allowed Tykot (2002) to provenance Neolithic obsidian artifacts from archaeological sites throughout the Central Mediterranean to these four sources. Thus, Tykot (2002) revealed material distribution patterns otherwise inaccessible to archaeologists. An exploratory study by McDougall et al. (1983) demonstrated the potential use of magnetic properties to distinguish Central Mediterranean obsidians. If each obsidian source group has a unique magnetic fingerprint, magnetic provenancing might serve as a quick, inexpensive, and non-destructive alternative to chemical provenancing. Our research continues the work started by McDougall et al.; we set out to characterize the Central Mediterranean obsidians and search for magnetic fingerprints that distinguish them. Our preliminary study of the magnetic properties of 30 geologic obsidian specimens from Sardinia A, B, and C subgroups and the three other Central Mediterranean island sources suggests that each source has a unique combination of magnetic properties that could allow magnetic provenancing of archaeological obsidians. For example, the combination of natural remanent magnetization (NRM; median [med] = 2.46 x 10-4 Am2/kg, interquartile range [IQR] = 9.77 x 10-4 Am2/kg) and magnetic susceptibility (low field, low frequency magnetic susceptibility [χlflf]: med = 27.0 x 10-6 m3/kg, IQR = 75.9 x 10-6 m3/kg) seems to have good potential to discriminate the groups. However, statistical analysis shows that there is significant overlap in the confidence intervals of these variables, a limitation which appears to be partially imposed at this point by the small sample size. Discriminant analysis of several magnetic variables also shows potential to assist in classification (i.e., provenancing) of Central Mediterranean obsidians. We have obtained discriminant functions that correctly classify over 80% of the obsidian specimens in leave-one-out cross validations using as few as three log- transformed magnetic parameters: NRM, χlflf, and saturation isothermal remanent magnetization (SIRM; med = 7.59 x 10-3 Am2/kg, IQR = 2.85 x 10-2 Am2/kg). Backfield coercivity of remanence, median destructive field, percent frequency effect, and saturation coercivity seem to contribute the least to group discrimination, yet their effects are statistically significant. Even though initial tests of discriminant analysis look promising, it should be noted that the small sample sizes and relatively large number of variables used in the discriminant analyses violate the test's assumptions and may make the resulting discriminant functions unusable; this will be addressed in future research. The results from our preliminary study suggest that the Central Mediterranean sources of obsidian might have characteristic and distinguishable magnetic fingerprints. However, many more geologic obsidian specimens must be measured to define the ranges of the source groups' magnetic properties and to further test this hypothesis.