Wood can be a difficult, and costly, archaeological material to preserve. This is nowhere better highlighted than by the enormous efforts put into place to help conserve the Mary Rose. When the remains of Henry VIII’s warship were lifted out of the Solent in 1981 (see CA 218 and 272), little was known about how best to preserve the wreck once it had been removed from the protective anoxic conditions under the seabed. But over the past three decades, multiple techniques have been developed to keep the ship, and other wooden artefacts recovered from archaeological contexts, from degrading before our eyes. In this month’s ‘Science Notes’, we explore the latest of these preservation techniques.
In this month’s ‘Science Notes’, we explore the evolution of the Y chromosome in Neanderthals and Denisovans (an extinct subspecies of humans, who appear to have been concentrated in Asia during the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic).
This month, we are examining acoustic properties of Stonehenge – a first for ‘Science Notes’, and an area that is seldom considered in archaeology.
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.
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’.
Archaeologists at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney, have identified the impression of woven cloth preserved on a piece of Neolithic pottery, potentially representing the oldest evidence for textiles found in Scotland to date.
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.
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.
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.
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.