Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New ten second sourcing technology set to transform archaeology

Date:
September 9, 2013
Source:
University of Sheffield
Summary:
Researchers have developed a method of sourcing obsidian artifacts that takes only 10 seconds -- dozens of times faster than the current methods -- with a handheld instrument that can be used at archaeological excavations.

Dr Ellery Frahm using pXRF.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Sheffield

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have developed a method of sourcing obsidian artefacts that takes only 10 seconds -- dozens of times faster than the current methods -- with a handheld instrument that can be used at archaeological excavations.

Related Articles


Obsidian, naturally occurring volcanic glass, is smooth, hard, and far sharper than a surgical scalpel when fractured, making it a highly desirable raw material for crafting stone tools for almost all of human history. The earliest obsidian tools, found in East Africa, are nearly two million years old, and obsidian scalpels are still used today in specialised medical procedures.

The chemistry of obsidian varies from volcano to volcano, and the chemical "fingerprints" allow researchers to match an obsidian artefact to the volcanic origin of its raw material. The chemical tests often involve dedicated analytical laboratories, even nuclear reactors, and take place months or years after an archaeological site has been excavated.

The new process uses an analytical technique called portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF), which involves a handheld instrument about the size, shape, and weight of a cordless drill. This portability enables archaeologists to identify the origins of stone tools in the field rather than having to send off artefacts to a distant lab. The newly developed method, which saves time and money, will first be used to study obsidian tools made by early humans, including Neanderthals and Homo erectus, tens of thousands of years ago.

Dr Ellery Frahm from the University of Sheffield's Department of Archaeology explained: "Obsidian sourcing has, for the last 50 years, involved chemical analysis in a distant laboratory, often taking five minutes per artefact, completely separate from the process of archaeological excavation. We sought to bring new tools for chemical analysis with us into the field, so we can do obsidian sourcing as we excavate or survey an archaeological site, not wait until months or years later to learn the results. We can now analyse an obsidian artefact in the field, and just 10 seconds later, we have an answer for its origin.

"We carried out the research in Armenia because it has one of the most obsidian-rich natural and cultural landscapes in the world, and the lithic assemblages of numerous Palaeolithic sites are predominantly, if not entirely, composed of obsidian."

The work is the latest of Dr Frahm's achievements in the field of obsidian sourcing, an area that he previously researched in Syria, prior to the current conflict situation which now threatens the country's heritage.

This research arose from the department's involvement in the EU-funded Marie Curie network "New Archaeological Research Network for Integrating Approaches to Ancient Material Studies," known by its acronym as NARNIA. Dr Frahm explained that Sheffield's research with NARNIA includes uniting archaeological labwork and fieldwork in the field: "We have a broad remit on the project, but we are driven by two goals: work where we couldn't work before, and answer what we couldn't answer before."

Dr Frahm continued: "Here at Sheffield we're shifting chemical analysis from the realm of 'white lab coats' to 'muddy boots.' The more that archaeologists and specialists in various fields can work together on-site the better."


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, Beverly A. Schmidt, Boris Gasparyan, Benik Yeritsyan, Sergei Karapetian, Khachatur Meliksetian, Daniel S. Adler. Ten Seconds in the Field: Rapid Armenian Obsidian Sourcing with Portable XRF to Inform Excavations and Surveys. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.08.012

Cite This Page:

University of Sheffield. "New ten second sourcing technology set to transform archaeology." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130909121951.htm>.
University of Sheffield. (2013, September 9). New ten second sourcing technology set to transform archaeology. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130909121951.htm
University of Sheffield. "New ten second sourcing technology set to transform archaeology." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130909121951.htm (accessed November 28, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Friday, November 28, 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