Science and Technology: Methods, Analysis, and Tools

Robin Torrence (Australian Museum); Chris Hunt (Queen’s University); Rathnasiri Premathilake (University of Kelaniya); Mariano Bonomo (University of La Plata); Kirsi Lorentz (The Cyprus Institute)

Theme Abstract

The number and sophistication of scientific techniques central to archaeological research have been increasing at nearly an exponential rate for several decades, as witnessed in the huge growth of specialist journals such as the Journal of Archaeological Science, Archaeometry, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, and Journal of Paleopathology. But have these new tools contributed to better answers for significant questions posed by archaeology? In what way is cutting edge science delivering on, or advancing contemporary archaeological research questions? Or has the development of new techniques become an end in itself divorced from the central goals and aims of archaeology itself? Is the research becoming more technique driven than problem oriented? How can scientific techniques be expanded or better directed to address questions raised by contemporary goals and theory in archaeology?

The aim of the sessions and individual contributions that will make up this theme is to bring together archaeologists representing a range of different specialist fields, continents, and theoretical orientations to assess the state of current archaeological science, to showcase innovative approaches, and to scope out opportunities for future applications and collaborations. Sessions and individual contributions that discuss methods, analysis and specific tools are welcome.


Deep-time perspectives on Culture Change in Jordan: Cyber-archaeology, Production and Exchange

Thomas E. Levy (University of California San Diego); Mohammad Najjar (University of California San Diego)


Long-term regional studies provide unique datasets for investigating meta-theory issues of culture change though time. When these investigations are based on comprehensive archaeological field surveys and excavations, it is possible to shed new light on ‘grand narrative’ theories of culture change. Researchers working in Jordan, a region with rich archaeological datasets from the Middle Paleolithic to Islamic times, can test high-level archaeological theories surrounding issues such as the Neolithic Revolution, Secondary Products Revolution, Metallurgical Revolution, Urban Revolution, and Industrial Revolution. While these theories have been in the scholarly literature for many years, the current Information Technology Revolution that affects our world on a daily basis provides new opportunities to examine these theories in more detailed, replicable and comprehensive ways. Using new and evolving methods of cyber-archaeology (where computer science, information technology, and engineering are applied to ancient material culture), the papers in this session explore Jordan’s material past in light of ‘grand narratives’ of culture change.


Recent Advances in Dating and Chronology

Paula J. Reimer (Queen’s University Belfast); Thomas F. G. Higham (University of Oxford); Rachel E. Wood(Australian National University); Judith C. Sealy (University of Cape Town)


Recent advances in scientific dating, such as improved radiocarbon sample pre-treatments, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and tephra analysis, together with statistical modeling offer new insights into archaeological problems. This session will focus on these advances and chronological applications in archaeology.


Characterising Trade and Exchange

Valerie Jane Attenbrow (Australian Museum)


Research into the identification of trade and exchange patterns has a long history in archaeology and in recent years there has been an increasing number of methods and analyses available to assist in these studies. Amongst them are the geochemical techniques that characterise the elemental composition of artefacts and the geochemical variation within raw materials. They include PIXME-PIGME, NAA (neutron activation analysis) and ICP (Inductively coupled plasma emission spectroscopy), but increasingly used are non-destructive techniques such as portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) and Raman spectroscopy.

The identification of source materials for items such as flaked and ground stone artefacts, pottery, stoneware, ochres and metal, combined with the spatial patterns created by the movement of objects and raw materials and the distances over which they travelled, assist in reconstructing past social networks and tracing the emergence of complex social behaviours.

This session’s contributions show-case the range of methods and analyses used in recent research and the stimulating results that have been achieved in studies about hunter-gatherer/foraging, agricultural and urban contexts in all parts of the world.


Integrating DNA and Archaeology

Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith (University of Otago); Mark Jobling (University of Leicester)


Recent advances in DNA technology and bioinformatics have resulted in new and exciting possibilities for the types of historical questions that can be addressed with genetic data. However, unless active collaboration between researchers from the lab and the field occurs, that potential will not be fully realized. In this session we hope to bring together geneticists, molecular anthropologists, archaeologists and historians to engage in discussion and debate regarding both the powers and the pitfalls of the application of genetic data and methods to archaeological and historical questions. We hope these discussions will encourage future collaborations and real integration of DNA and archaeology.


The Management of Wild Resources and the Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants and Animals

Huw J Barton (University of Leicester); Luciano Prates (Universidad Nacional de La Plata)


How can new developments in science and theory help us better understand the process of domestication? While attention has understandably focused upon the origins of domestication in plants and animals, the protracted histories of plant and animal management are no less interesting and their understanding may well yield important information about the significant behavioural relationships between humans and their lived environment. It has been estimated that proto-dogs and humans may have engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship for over 100,000 years, yet clear evidence of domestication only occurs around 15,000 years ago. In other cases wild mammals have been kept as pets, but never domesticated. Today in the tropics (e.g., Southeast Asia and South American Lowlands) we see a complex picture of cultivation systems involving wild and domesticated plants with various systems of in situ plant management within cultivated plots and patches of forest. To better understand histories of domestication and the adoption/spread of domesticated species will require innovative applications of science. In this session we welcome papers that address any aspect of plant and animal management, those dealing with ongoing debates about the domestication process, as well as the adoption/spread of domesticated species.


Archaeology in the Digital Age

El-Rifai, Ibrahim (Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt); Lerma, José Luis (Universitat Politècnica de València, Spain)


Digitize your World! A few points can locate an archaeological site on a map or plot a timeline of a complete civilization. Points can be measurements of a total station, GPS or laser scanner. Other points can plot spectra of elemental analysis. Points in computer world are digits, zeros and ones, and they are the basic essence of our digital era. It is true that a few digits can visualize reality!

Technology is a necessity not a luxury; new tools and technologies have emerged especially in the field of archaeology. Archaeological surveying, documentation or conservation procedures are rarely relying on one technology. The interaction between different techniques and technologies within an organized framework is indispensable.

Archaeology in the Digital Age session encourages participants to present case studies on the utilization of multidisciplinary techniques in the digitization, investigation and presentation of archaeological sites and artifacts.

Session Topics:

  • Surveying and documentation techniques
  • Artwork investigation and analysis
  • Multispectral/hyperspectral analysis of archaeological objects and sites
  • Archaeometry applications
  • Visualization and dissemination techniques



Stone tool analyses: assessing the state of the art and scoping future directions

Robin Torrence, (Australian Museum, Australia); Lucas Bueno, (Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil)


The number, variety and sophistication of new methods for studying stone tools are increasing so rapidly that it is difficult to characterize ‘lithic technology’ as an integrated field of research. Although many innovative approaches and cutting edge scientific techniques are being effectively applied to research topics long central to archaeology–e.g. form, function, procurement, exchange, mobility patterns, and spatial patterning,– some have helped stone tools expand into areas such as gender, practice, social status, craft specialization, ritual and meaning. The aim of this session is to evaluate the state of the art of stone tool studies by assessing the techniques in current use. Are they accurate and reliable enough and do they really provide new insights? Which are better than others? Which techniques are most appropriate for particular research questions? Papers might also scope the future by predicting the sorts of techniques that might help lithic studies increase the significant contributions to our understanding of the past.


Novel isotopic approaches to investigating human palaeoecology

Rhiannon E Stevens, (University of Cambridge); Emma Lightfoot, (University of Cambridge); Marcello A Mannino, (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)


Stable isotope methods are widely applied to ancient material such as bones, teeth, mollusc, plant remains and lake sediments, to further our understanding of human palaeoecology in both the Pleistocene and the Holocene. However, all too often research focuses on site specific studies rather than broader-scale investigations of human palaeoecology and palaeoeconomy in the landscape. Furthermore, isotope-based investigations frequently do not attain their full potential to provide a more holistic understanding of the past because they are inadequately integrated with other archaeological lines of enquiry (archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, etc.). Approaches that bridge interdisciplinary gaps are providing novel perspectives on human adaptations to past environments, as well as on their long-term ecological consequences. We invite contributions that showcase holistic and innovative isotopic investigations of human palaeoecology and economy at a broad landscape level. Themes welcomed include human subsistence and landscape use, animal and crop management, animal mobility, seasonality, palaeoclimate, landscape and environmental change, human impact on plant and animal ecology, impacts of past climatic change on human societies, and so forth.


Assessing the current role of isotopic investigations in archaeological research

Rhiannon E Stevens, (University of Cambridge); Emma Lightfoot, (University of Cambridge); Marcello A Mannino, (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)


Stable isotope analysis is now an established technique within archaeology, used to explore past diet, climate, environment, mobility and ecology. Recent methodological advances have decreased the cost of isotopic analyses, and novel isotope based techniques have enabled a wide variety of materials to be studied and debates to be addressed. This forum will discuss the extent to which these advances have had an impact on current isotope-based research and what this has meant for archaeology as a discipline.

  • Are archaeological scientists focusing on the development of new techniques without considering their wider relevance to archaeology?
  • Can isotope data drive archaeological research?
  • Isotope investigations are no longer solely the domain of the isotope specialist as archaeologists can now obtain isotope results from commercial laboratories …. Is this a good or bad thing?
  • How does one choose an appropriate isotopic technique and sample size for the research question at hand?
  • How can we best integrate isotope studies with other methodologies to provide holistic investigations of the past?
  • Are isotopic approaches being applied in archaeology before sufficient scientific evidence for their validity is actually available?
  • In what way can we continue narrowing the disciplinary divide between geochemistry and archaeology?


Applied geoarchaeology in current archaeological research

Paris Alejandro Ferrand Alcaraz, (UNAM, Mexico); Kristina Penezić, (Institute of Balkanology SASA, Serbia; Heidelberg University, Germany)


The vast field of Geoarchaeology encompasses the usage of geographical, geological, geomorphological and other Earth science methods in archaeology. Those can be applied to research questions related to the archaeological field. The varied geoarchaeological methods are used from small-scale determination of site formation and post depositional processes up to large-scale landscape and environmental reconstructions.

In order to know and share the different research on this field this session invites Poster, Oral and Multimedia presentations from any prehistoric or historic periods and all regions. Research should blend traditional archaeological topics, such as land use practices, human-environment interactions, landscape reconstruction, site formation processes, and trade and exchange, with topics based in geoscience and environmental based topics, such as geomorphology soil science, sedimentology, petrography, paleobotany, and archaeometry.


Cultural Biogeography of Plants and Animals – The Archaeology of Exotica

Naomi Sykes (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom), Alexandra Livarda (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom), Richard Madgwick (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom) and Greger Larson (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom)


The rise of global trade has dramatically increased the number of exotic plants and animals that have become established outside their natural range. Today, this is an important ecological, economic and political issue; however, it is not a recent phenomenon: people have radically influenced the fate of species for millennia.

Geneticists, archaeologists and other social scientists are beginning to recognise that exotic species are a valuable source of cultural information: they are a direct a record of human behaviour and thought, charting population movements, trade patterns, environmental impact and even shifts in worldview. As such the study of species introductions can address some of the highest-profile issues in archaeology and history: e.g. diaspora, culture-contact and the structure and ideology of past societies. This session welcomes papers from scholars who are examining the timing and circumstances of exotic plant and animal diffusion. We are particularly keen to receive submissions that take an integrated approach, employing a combination of traditional and scientific techniques (e.g. genetics, isotopic analyses, geometric morphometrics) to reconstruct the cultural biogeography of plants and animals.


Science in Archaeology: Where to next?

Mariano Bonomo (Conicet-Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentine Republic), Robin Torrence (Australian Museum, Australia), and Chris Hunt (Queen’s University, UK)


Science has long been an integral part of archaeological practice both as a guide for thinking and acting and as a source of specific techniques. Whether there is a well defined subfield of archaeological science may be debated, but the enormous growth of publications using scientific techniques and the success of three international journals devoted to it is testimony to its perceived importance. The purpose of this forum is to assess the track record of archaeological science and, most importantly, to discuss potential pathways for the future of the discipline. Panelists will raise questions about critical issues that we intend should lead to lively discussion. Potential themes: What are the most successful ways of combining archaeology with scientific methods? Should science be in the service of archaeology or should good archaeological scientists be primarily scientists? How can we improve the dialogue between archaeological questions and the approaches of the specialist disciplines that are used to answer these (e.g. physicists, biologists, geologists)? How to foster innovation but avoid least publishable units? How to maintain quality in the face of the explosion of new applications? What areas have been neglected? Can archaeological science address questions posed by new theoretical approaches in archaeology?


Novel approaches to the Neolithic Transition: last hunters and first farmers in the Western Mediterranean

Oreto García Puchol (Unversitat de Valencia, Spain); Domingo Carlos Salazar García (Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany)


New methods and techniques have contributed greatly to our understanding of the Neolithic transition in the Western Mediterranean. Advances in the several fields of study, including chronology, genetics, environmental changes, palaeoeconomy and social networks, have provided new explanatory mechanisms for this crucial human transition. This session aims to bring together specialists that work in several Mediterranean contexts to present their most recent results. We focus both on the use of new techniques (e.g., ancient DNA, stable isotopes, radiocarbon dates, environmental changes, stylistic analyses, and ABM models among others), and on theoretical explanations about the neolithization processes. These studies provide both micro-regional analysis and macro-level views of the transition in a Mediterranean perspective.