Science Notes

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Science Notes – Studying the stones of Stonehenge

Lithological provenancing has featured heavily in the pages of Current Archaeology recently. In one of last month’s features, we discussed the recent evidence behind the potential origins of the Stonehenge bluestones, and this month we are examining the source of the monument’s celebrated sarsens. As we have yet to explore petrology or geochemistry within ‘Science Notes’, I thought it a good opportunity to rectify this and delve into the details of some of the techniques used for these projects.

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Science Notes – Radiocarbon dating gets a facelift

Every few years, the radiocarbon calibration curve used to determine the calendar dates of almost all 14C measurements gets updated. The last recalibration was in 2013. Called IntCal13, it was based on 7,019 raw data points. This year, a major revamp – one of the biggest since its inception – has taken place and the new IntCal20 now takes into consideration more than 12,900 measurements. As with previous versions, the separate curves for samples from the Southern Hemisphere (SHCal20) and from marine reservoirs (Marine20) have also been updated. In this month’s ‘Science Notes’, we break down the history of these curves and dissect some of IntCal20’s new ‘features’.

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Science Notes – Oxygen isotope tree-ring dating at the Tower of London

Dendrochronology (dating timbers by analysing tree-rings) is a vital weapon in the archaeological arsenal, and one that is often mentioned in CA. This month’s ‘Science Notes’ features a new approach, using stable isotopes, which could help date samples that cannot normally be analysed using traditional methods. We will be looking at how this method was able to shed light on the history of construction at the Tower of London.

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Science Notes – Leprosy in medieval England

Analysis of medieval skeletons from two sites, one in Chichester and another in Raunds Furnells, has identified the presence of Mycobacterium leprae DNA – signs of leprosy in medieval England.

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Science Notes – Early medieval insights from birch bark tar

Birch bark tar (manufactured by the heating of bark in airtight conditions) has long been prized for its sticky, water resistant, and biocidal properties. Throughout human history it has seen a wide range of uses, including as a sealant (for example, in waterprooing vessels), an adhesive (for hafting weapons, repairing ceramics, or assembling composite objects like jewellery), and in perfume and medicine.

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Science Notes – 3D imaging and reimagining 19th-century interpretations

In this month’s ‘Science Notes’, we will look at the way three-dimensional (3D) imaging can be used to study the accuracy of plaster casts created by 19th-century archaeologists to record and preserve ancient monuments. A recent study published in Antiquity compared casts taken of parts of the Parthenon in Athens in the early 1800s and the 1870s with the original sculptures in their current state, in order to determine the reliability of the casts and to help monitor the sculptures’ deterioration over time.

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Science Notes – Progress in potsherd recording

In this month’s ‘Science Notes’, we look at new research that could change the way in which archaeological survey is carried out in the future, exploring an article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science that offers the first proof of concept for a method of automating the recording of material culture, such as potsherds, across large areas.

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Science Notes – Survey on the Isle of Arran

For this month’s Science Notes, we will be exploring a technology that is mentioned frequently in the pages of CA, and which, in a recent survey of the Isle of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland, has allowed hundreds of previously unknown sites of archaeological interest to be discovered.

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