Friday, May 6, 2011

Annual Open Meeting and Archaeochemistry

Leukos Survey Project. Quickbird Satellite image with contours, 2010
Each foreign archaeological school or institute in Greece has an annual open meeting where the activities and the archaeological fieldwork are highlighted. In addition, a distinguished scholar is invited to give a special lecture on some topic related to the study of the past. The Institute is no exception, of course. On Thursday, May 12th at 7 pm at the auditorium of the Danish Institute in Athens in Plaka we will hold our Open Meeting. I will review the work of our members with permits from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Specifically, I will discuss the results of the excavations at Argilos (Central Macedonia) and at Kastro Kallithea (Thessaly), the Leukos Survey Project (Kato Lefkos, Karpathos) and the study seasons of the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project and the Southern Euboea Exploration Project (Karystos, Euboea).

Professor Robert Weir (Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, University of Windsor) will give the Invited Lecture. His topic is, “Antiochos VIII and the Star of Destiny”. Our members, friends and the public are cordially invited to attend. There will be a reception afterwards.

Book of the Blog
It is only natural for archaeologists to seek ways to that will inform them of how artifacts were used, reconstruct the foodways of ancient peoples or determine what food products were traded. The archaeological context in which artifacts are found can indicate sometimes the purpose and manner of use. Similar forms and manner of production with contemporary or historical examples can provide homologies. Ethnographical and ethno-historical sources offer another potential approach to answering such questions. Intuition or speculation is often evoked when there is no obvious answer. The result is frequently an inconsistency in interpretation of similar assemblages and conflicting descriptive models.

In some cases, however, there are other possibilities when there are visible botanical residues or chemical encrustations on tool or vessel surfaces. During the past half century the analyses of these macro-organic residues have led archaeologists and biochemists to go beyond this superficial level. They now investigate micro and molecular residues on external surfaces as well as organic compounds the have impregnated the fabric of the artifact. These residues “…represent carbon-based remains (in combination with H, N, O, P and S) of fungi, plants, animals and humans” (p. 1) found on or in ceramics, flaked and ground stone tools, grinding stones, bone, and coprolites. Further, researchers have isolated various biomolecules ranging from lipids, petides, proteins and starches to DNA and plant lignin. Besides food residues hafting adhesives, sealants and pigments can be identified. This specialized interdisciplinary endeavor has evolved into a new field called “archaeochemistry”.

At the 2005 annual meeting of the Society of American Archaeology in Salt Lake City, UT a symposium was held on the subject of organic residue analysis. The organizers, Hans Barnard and Jelmar W. Eerkins, promptly published the 16 papers that were given in, Theory and Practice of Archaeological Residue Analysis (BAR International Series 1650, Oxford 2007). The editors’ Introduction and the two appendices provide both a broad, but succinct, overview of the state of this rapidly developing field, its history and research path, the various analytical methods used, the problems and challenges of using the results, and a glossary of the scientific and technical terminology used. Although the papers represent a cross-section of current research and a range of analytical techniques most focus in one way or the other on ceramics using combined gas chromatography mass spectrometry.

For those archeologists seeking to understand topics such as the form and function of tools and vessels in a society, subsistence patterns, diet reconstruction, or the trade of agricultural products this thick, well-illustrated volume offers a means to access effectively this important analytical approach. The extensive references cited provide a direct connection to the relevant literature.

David Rupp

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