Thursday, October 29, 2009

Archaeometry in the movies

Anyone see this? Any suggestions for other appearances of archaeometry in the movies?

Movie Review from the New York Times:

Opa! (2005)
October 16, 2009
Love and Archaeology


Opa!, a sweet, nontaxing movie set in the gorgeous Greek Isles, has a bit of a black hole at its center named Matthew Modine. But the film’s female lead, Agni Scott, and some fine supporting players make this small film a pleasant if predictable diversion.

Mr. Modine plays an archaeologist named Eric who comes to Patmos in search of a particular religious relic that eluded his archaeologist father his whole career. Eric has something his father didn’t: a computer gizmo that enables him to find likely locations for buried treasures using satellite imagery.

Eric is supposed to be shy and awkward, but Mr. Modine makes him too bland to be interesting, which leaves you wondering why the lovely Ms. Scott’s character, Katerina, would fall for him. The vivacious Katerina owns a popular tavern, and when Eric pinpoints what he thinks is the location of the object he’s after — well, there’s a choice to be made.

Richard Griffiths does some nice work as an old-style archaeologist, conveying with just the occasional melancholy expression the wistfulness of an academic breed being swept aside by new methods.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Archaeological science vs. archaeology vs. anthropology

On my recent trip out west, I learned of two academic departments where the cultural anthropologists and archaeologists had split and formed separate departments.  I guess even the best of unions suffer after long relationships.  Kind of too bad, though, with all the fuss we make about using the natural sciences in the service of problems important to the social sciences. And, who gets the office furniture when it's all over?

Always interesting to look at the different situation in Europe, where there are entire departments of archaeology, sometimes with specialties in archaeological science.  I'm hoping to visit Bradford when I am in Europe this coming Spring.  Not only can you get an undergraduate degree in archaeology, but you can also specialize in archaeological science.  Pretty sweet.  I know from the majors in environmental science within my own department that those interdisciplinary majors can be tricky, but if done right with an eye for rigor, there is much to be gained.

What are some academic models or departments that you think make for good training for the archaeological sciences? Feel free to comment below.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blood and guts and archaeometry- eBook available

Archaeological Science Under a Microscope
Studies in Residue and Ancient DNA Analysis in Honour of Thomas H. Loy
Terra Australis 30
Edited by Michael Haslam, Gail Robertson, Alison Crowther, Sue Nugent and Luke Kirkwood
ISBN 9781921536847 $55.00 (GST inclusive)
ISBN 9781921536854 (Online)
Published July 2009

These highly varied studies, spanning the world, demonstrate how much modern analyses of microscopic traces on artifacts are altering our perceptions of the past. Ranging from early humans to modern kings, from ancient Australian spears or Mayan pots to recent Maori cloaks, the contributions demonstrate how starches, raphides, hair, blood, feathers, resin and DNA have become essential elements in archaeology’s modern arsenal for reconstructing the daily, spiritual, and challenging aspects of ancient lives and for understanding human evolution. The book is a fitting tribute to Tom Loy, the pioneer of residue studies and gifted teacher who inspired and mentored these exciting projects.

Downloadable for free in pdf format.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Leonardo and forensics strike again

This time it is his fingerprints!

From CBC News:
A small picture of a young woman in profile owned by a Canadian collector may be a work by Leonardo da Vinci.

Art experts say there is strong evidence the picture is by Leonardo after finding a fingerprint on the Renaissance-era painting that matches another fingerprint found on his St Jerome in the Vatican.

The fingerprint was found by Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal-based forensic art expert, through multispectral analysis, which detects images unseen by the naked eye.

The hairstyle and robe worn by the young woman in the ink and chalk image is consistent with Milanese fashion of the late 15th century, experts say. Carbon dating also suggests the painting dates from the late 1400s, when Leonardo would have been painting.

Art Access & Research has put out a press release to highlight the important work performed on this project by its Director of Forensic Studies, Peter Paul Biro.
Art Access & Research Leonardo press release (pdf, 100KB).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

SAA Fryxell Ward

Fryxell Award for 2011                       

The Society for American Archaeology Fryxell Award is presented in recognition for interdisciplinary excellence of a scientist who need not be an archaeologist, but whose research has contributed significantly to American archaeology. The award is made possible through the generosity of the family of the late Roald Fryxell, a geologist whose career exemplified the crucial role of multidisciplinary cooperation in archaeology. Nominees are evaluated on the breadth and depth of their research and its impact on American archaeology, the nominee’s role in increasing awareness of interdisciplinary studies in archaeology, and the nominee’s public and professional service to the community. The award cycles through zoological sciences, botanical sciences, earth sciences, physical sciences, and general interdisciplinary studies. The 2011 Fryxell Award will be in the area of zoological sciences (zooarchaeology image from Amarna Project). The award will be given at the SAA’s 76th Annual Meeting, 2011, in Sacramento, California. The award consists of an engraved medal, a certificate, an award citation read by the SAA president during the annual business meeting, and a half-day symposium at the Annual Meeting held in honor of the awardee.

Special requirements:

• Describe the nature, scope, and significance of the nominee’s contributions to American archaeology.
• Curriculum vitae.
• Support letters from other scholars are helpful. Four to six are suggested.

Deadline for all nomination materials: February 5, 2010

Contact: Virginia L. Butler; Portland State University; PO Box 751; Department of Anthropology; Portland, OR 97207-0751; ph: (503) 725-3303; fax: (503) 725-3905; e-mail:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Remote sensing" for Leonardo with neutron beams

The New York Times reported this week on the search for a masterpiece of Da Vinci, The Battle of Anghiari, that is presumably "buried" beneath other frescoes in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

One technique uses backscattered neutrons, the other uses emitted gamma rays in a version of neutron activation analysis.

An interview with Maurizio Seracini, the lead engineer, appeared in Wired.

There is also a scientific article out discussing preliminary tests:
Neutron back scattering for the search of the Battle of Anghiari

Monday, October 5, 2009

Shroud of Turin (further) debunked

From the Associated Press:
ROME — Scientists have reproduced the Shroud of Turin — revered as the cloth that covered Jesus in the tomb — and say the experiment proves the relic was man-made, a group of Italian debunkers claimed Monday.

The shroud bears the figure of a crucified man, complete with blood seeping out of nailed hands and feet, and believers say Christ's image was recorded on the linen fibers at the time of his resurrection.

Scientists have reproduced the shroud using materials and methods that were available in the 14th century, the Italian Committee for Checking Claims on the Paranormal said.

The group said in a statement this is further evidence the shroud is a medieval forgery. In 1988, scientists used radiocarbon dating to determine it was made in the 13th or 14th century.

But the dispute continued because experts couldn't explain how the faint brown discoloration was produced, imprinting on the cloth a negative image centuries before the invention of photography.

Many still believe that the shroud "has unexplainable characteristics that cannot be reproduced by human means," lead scientist Luigi Garlaschelli said in the statement. "The result obtained clearly indicates that this could be done with the use of inexpensive materials and with a quite simple procedure."

The research was funded by the debunking group and by an Italian organization of atheists and agnostics, he said.

Garlaschelli, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pavia, said in an interview with La Repubblica daily that his team used a linen woven with the same technique as the shroud and artificially aged by heating it in an oven and washing it with water.

The cloth was then placed on a student, who wore a mask to reproduce the face, and rubbed with red ochre, a well known pigment at the time. The entire process took a week, Repubblica said.

One of my graduate student mentors, Paul Damon, was involved in the radiocarbon dating.

In any case, the Shroud will be on public display next April-May, according to the official web site. It usually is shown only a couple of times each century. I'll be on sabbatical in Europe - I might just go!

Image from the official web site.