Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Pumice As A Time Witness

Date:
June 27, 2008
Source:
Vienna University of Technology
Summary:
Chemical fingerprints of volcanic eruptions and numerous pumice lump finds from archaeological excavations illustrate relations between individual advanced civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Thanks to new tests and to the provenancing of the respective pumice samples to partially far-reaching volcanic eruptions, it became possible to redefine a piece of cultural history from the second millenium B.C.

Three different pumice samples.
Credit: Image courtesy of Vienna University of Technology

A chemist of Vienna University of Technology demonstrates how chemical fingerprints of volcanic eruptions and numerous pumice lump finds from archaeological excavations illustrate relations between individual advanced civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Thanks to his tests and to the provenancing of the respective pumice samples to partially far-reaching volcanic eruptions, it became possible to redefine a piece of cultural history from the second millenium B.C.

During the Bronze Age, between the years 3000 and 1000 B.C., the Mediterranean was already intensely populated. Each individual culture, whether it may be the Egyptian one, the Syrian one, or the Minoan culture from Santorini, has in most cases its own well-researched, chronological history. However, the connection between these individual cultures and locations is often missing for the most part because more often than not, there is no correspondence or similar exchange that has taken place, has been preserved, or is comprehensible. It is so much more difficult to synchronize the individual cultures among themselves.

An international research program of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) called “SCIEM2000” is now opening new perspectives in this field. A research team of the Atomic Institute of the Austrian Universities under the leadership of Professor Max Bichler is engaged in identifying volcanic rocks from archaeological excavations. Georg Steinhauser, Project Assistant and Chemist at the Department of Radiation Physical Analysis and Radiochemistry of the Atomic Institute says: “Pumice is a foamy volcanic rock. Today, we know the rock that is floating on water mainly as a cosmetic remedy for instance for sole callus.”

Pumice was also often used in ancient times as an abrasive and is repeatedly found in archaeological excavations in the Mediterranean Sea. Since volcanoes are not found everywhere, however, intense commercial activities related to this product were unleashed. “In Egypt, pumice was found in ancient workshops. In some of the excavations, there was even rock that still presented the right abrasion traces.

They were used to polish sculptures, constructions, bronze objects, and so forth. Chemical tests enable us to trace back from which volcanoes the samples came,” explains Georg Steinhauser.

Pumice in particular, just like the fine-grained volcano ashes, has a specific chemical composition, a characteristic “cocktail” on trace elements. Based on this, the researchers can generate a chemical fingerprint and can compare it to the data base the way it is done in criminology. Hence, pumices out of the Mediterranean volcanic centres as well as from archaeologically relevant pumice finds are being analysed. If the fingerprint of the find matches that of a rock type in the data base, then the origin can be undoubtedly determined.

So there is the immediate assumption that the Egyptians have surely ordered pumice from Greece. The researchers were able to determine these commercial relations by means of the instrumental neutron-activation analysis (INAA) by which the pumice samples in the research reactor are being irradiated with neutrons and subsequently measured with a gamma spectrometer.

This way, the chemical fingerprint is generated with 25 characteristic main and trace elements. “We were able to discover that pumice as a commodity (presumably seaborne) covered distances of up to 2,000 km in the Mediterranean Sea. The eruption of the volcanic island Santorini, about 1,600 B.C., represents a particular time indicator. It was so powerful, that the entire Minoan culture was obliterated. When we find today this layer of ashes respectively pumice in various archaeological excavations, this offers immediately a time marker and enables us to synchronize different cultures. This also enables us to determine which rulers were in power in different locations at a certain time,” states Steinhauser.

When a pumice lump from Santorini is found in an excavation, we can at least say that the Santorini volcano must have already erupted, and the time of the eruption corresponds consequently to the maximum age of the excavation discovery place.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Vienna University of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Vienna University of Technology. "Pumice As A Time Witness." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 June 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080624124308.htm>.
Vienna University of Technology. (2008, June 27). Pumice As A Time Witness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080624124308.htm
Vienna University of Technology. "Pumice As A Time Witness." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080624124308.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Did ISIS Destroy Jonah's Tomb?

Did ISIS Destroy Jonah's Tomb?

Newsy (July 25, 2014) Unverified footage posted to YouTube purportedly shows ISIS militants destroying a shrine widely believed to be the tomb of the prophet Jonah. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

AFP (July 25, 2014) Europe's highest train, the little train of Artouste in the French Pyrenees, celebrates its 80th birthday. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Richard III's Car Park Burial Site Opens to Public

Richard III's Car Park Burial Site Opens to Public

AFP (July 25, 2014) Visitors will be able to look down from a glass walkway on the grave of King Richard III when a new centre opens in the English cathedral city of Leicester, where the infamous hunchback was found under a car park in 2012. Duration: 00:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins