Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New archaeological 'high definition' sourcing sharpens understanding of the past

Date:
May 22, 2013
Source:
University of Sheffield
Summary:
A new method of sourcing the origins of artefacts in high definition is set to improve our understanding of the past.

Dr Ellery Frahm at an obsidian outcrop.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Sheffield

A new method of sourcing the origins of artefacts in high definition is set to improve our understanding of the past.

Related Articles


Dr Ellery Frahm at the University of Sheffield developed the new technology to better study Mesopotamian obsidian tools unearthed in Syria, where cultural heritage is threatened by the ongoing conflict.

The research brings five decades of research full circle and presents a significant advance in the field. While at the University of Sheffield from 1965 -- 1972, Professor Lord Colin Renfrew developed a technique that matched stone tools made of obsidian, naturally occurring glass, to their volcanic origins based on their chemical fingerprints.

Considered one of the greatest successes in scientific archaeology, matching artefacts to specific volcanoes was a significant leap forward in understanding trade, contact, and cultural change in the ancient world.

Nearly 50 years later, Dr Frahm's work is the next major advance in obsidian sourcing. Previously it was only possible to match an artefact to a particular volcano or lava flow, sometimes covering dozens of chemically uniform square kilometres.

Frahm's new approach builds on traditional methods with additional magnetic analyses. The magnetic properties of obsidian vary on the scale of meters, not kilometres, enabling researchers to match an artefact to a particular quarry at the volcano. The result is much greater specificity of an artefact's origin, enabling human behaviours in the past to be reconstructed with greater spatial resolution than previously possible.

"Sourcing artefacts in this way gives us a sharper picture of the past," explained Frahm. "We have already used this approach to show how obsidian was collected from certain quarries at volcanoes and how ancient quarrying locations change over time.

This approach provides a deeper insight into our understanding of past human behaviour and will hopefully enhance research into how different groups managed natural resources linked to their economies."

Indeed, one of the most important aspects of the study for Dr Frahm and his collaborator, Dr Joshua Feinberg at the University of Minnesota, was the simplicity of the approach and how widely applicable it will be. "Our magnetic tests were chosen in part for their simplicity so that most rock magnetism laboratories could take the necessary measurements and apply this new approach worldwide. We did not want to develop a technique that could only be done in one or two laboratories in the world. It was important the approach be accessible, making it as 'open source' as possible."

Development of this approach partly depended on the sheer quantities of specimens and artefacts studied, "This study involved more magnetic measurements of obsidian than all previously published studies combined," explained Frahm. "The resulting picture revealed how to identify quarries of particular importance to Mesopotamian peoples, and it helps us to piece together their cultural significance."

The cultural significance of artefacts to Syria's heritage, which is under threat due to the current conflict, is an important part of Frahm's research. "During my fieldwork in Syria, I identified some spectacular artefacts that should be curated and displayed to the Syrian public at the Deir ez-Zor archaeological museum.

"Unfortunately, Deir ez-Zor has been a centre of fighting since summer 2011. The last time I had an update, the museum had become a stronghold for the Syrian military, even with snipers on the roof, and it appears that when they pulled out last fall, the museum was essentially trashed. This has a doubly damaging effect on the country. Not only do many Syrians see archaeological sites and artefacts as part of their heritage, but also archaeological excavations put money into the local economy and employ local workers, helping people in rural villages make ends meet. Protecting Syrian heritage throughout this terrible conflict is an issue that needs attention from people who are in a position to help."


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Ellery Frahm, Joshua M. Feinberg. From Flow to Quarry: Magnetic Properties of Obsidian and Changing the Scale of Archaeological Sourcing. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.04.029

Cite This Page:

University of Sheffield. "New archaeological 'high definition' sourcing sharpens understanding of the past." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130522085434.htm>.
University of Sheffield. (2013, May 22). New archaeological 'high definition' sourcing sharpens understanding of the past. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130522085434.htm
University of Sheffield. "New archaeological 'high definition' sourcing sharpens understanding of the past." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130522085434.htm (accessed November 29, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 27, 2014) A British palaeontologist has discovered a new species of dinosaur while studying fossils in a Canadian museum. Pentaceratops aquilonius was related to Triceratops and lived at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 75 million years ago. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Reuters - Entertainment Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) The iconic piano from "Casablanca" and the Cowardly Lion suit from "The Wizard of Oz" fetch millions at auction. Sara Hemrajani reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) Media is calling it an "underwater Pompeii." Researchers have found ruins off the coast of Delos. Video provided by Newsy
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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