Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

On the antiquity of pots: New method developed for dating archaeological pottery

30.09.2003


The contents of ancient pottery could help archaeologists resolve some longstanding disputes in the world of antiquities, thanks to scientists at Britain’s University of Bristol. The researchers have developed the first direct method for dating pottery by examining animal fats preserved inside the ceramic walls.



Archaeologists have long dated sites by the visual appearance of pottery fragments found around the site. The new analytical technique will allow archaeologists to more accurately determine the age of pottery and, by extension, the age of associated artifacts and sites. The research builds on recent work that has shed light on the types and uses of commodities contained within the vessels.

The findings will appear in the Sept. 30 edition of Analytical Chemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.


Pottery is essential for classifying archaeological sites. Organic materials, such as wood and bone, can easily be dated using radiocarbon techniques, but they aren’t always available or reliable. Wood tends to decompose over time, and animals often dig up bones and move them around a site. Ceramics, however, have a long and stable lifespan.

"If you go to a site and you find large amounts of Roman pottery, then you know you’ve got a Roman site," says Richard Evershed, Ph.D., a chemist at the University of Bristol and lead author of the paper. "Later pottery, such as Roman, is relatively easy to date from its appearance, but earlier pottery can be much harder because of its rough and ready appearance. That’s where the appeal of having a technique like this comes in."

Until now, there has been no direct method for chemically dating pottery. Previous researchers have analyzed residues found on the surfaces of pots, but these residues have been in direct contact with the soil and are likely to be contaminated, according to Evershed.

In earlier research, Evershed and his colleagues examined organic residues from pottery from Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age sites in Britain, and they found the first direct evidence that people were dairying as early as 6,000 years ago. During this analysis, they realized that lipids, or animal fats, are preserved in large enough quantities to be dated with radiocarbon methods. The prominence of animal fats at these sites is consistent with their wide range of potential uses in antiquity — as lubricants, waterproofing agents, cosmetics, ointments, perfumes, varnishes, etc.

"Pottery is unusual in that you get these lipids absorbed into the fabric, because most interesting pottery of any respectable age is unglazed," Evershed says. "We’re taking a piece of pot and grinding it to a powder, and then extracting lipid that’s penetrated right down into the fabric." The researchers used a technique called preparative capillary gas chromatography to isolate the lipids, then they radiocarbon dated purified compounds with an accelerator mass spectrometer located at the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit.

The researchers analyzed 15 pieces of pottery — mostly cooking jars and bowls — ranging in age from 4,000 B.C. to the 15th Century A.D. They assigned a date using the new method and then compared their findings to the historical date verified previously by association with organic artifacts. In all cases, their results were in good agreement with the sample history.

The analysis requires partial destruction of the artifacts, but the researchers didn’t run into much opposition along the way. "Museum curators require some convincing before they let you take their pottery away," Evershed says. "However, most of this pottery is not display quality material, but is stored in bags and boxes in the museum archive."

Evershed and his colleagues also plan to use the technique to study mummies. "A lot of Egyptian mummies were exported out of Egypt by the Victorians, and they often applied modern treatments to preserve them," Evershed says. The researchers hope to distinguish between a modern treatment and the original embalming agent.

The method could eventually be used for a variety of other analyses. "Potentially, you could date any other material that has preserved organic compounds," like pitches from wood products or collagen from bones, according to Evershed. "You could even isolate individual amino acids by this preparative GC approach, but no one’s tried that. That’s the next step."

Allison Byrum | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.acs.org/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Could this protein protect people against coronary artery disease?
17.11.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care

nachricht Microbial resident enables beetles to feed on a leafy diet
17.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>