Science Notes

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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 – Debating Durrington Walls

In recent years, a flurry of archaeological work in the Stonehenge landscape has uncovered a wealth of spectacular new details about this area’s prehistoric use. Above all, these findings clearly show that our knowledge of the past is constantly evolving. When it comes to archaeological analysis, there are very few certainties, and re-examining earlier evidence in light of either new finds or the development of new technologies is essential to get nearer to the truth.

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Science Notes – Calculating historical population fluctuations in Ireland

Previously, large-scale changes in population were quite difficult, if not impossible, to discern from the archaeological record. But while there are still many biases and pitfalls, new statistical techniques are starting to provide innovative ways to determine movement and migration patterns. In this month’s ‘Science Notes’, we explore some of these new techniques, and examine recent research that has utilised them to assess population fluctuations in Ireland.

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Science Notes – Picking out Paget’s disease using proteomics

In CA 338, we discussed proteomics – the study of proteins – and how it is quickly growing as a new way of analysing archaeological remains. That month’s ‘Science Notes’ explored how it had been applied to dental calculus, or plaque build-up, to assess an individual’s diet and health. Now research has used proteomics to help with the identification and diagnosis of ancient diseases, further proving its potential to revolutionise our understanding of health through history.

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Science Notes – Fashioning the face of man’s best friend

Facial reconstructions have become an increasingly common output of archaeological analysis. From the dark-skinned Cheddar Man (see CA 337) to the battle-scarred men from the Mary Rose, these life-like models put a face (literally) on the past in a way that artefacts cannot. Now, a reconstruction has been created from the skull of a Neolithic dog, opening up new possibilities for the ways in which this forensic technique may be used in the future. But how are these models created, and how accurate are they? In this month’s ’Science Notes‘, we explore the details of this technique and how it was applied to a canine from Orkney.

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Science Notes – Analysing archaeobotany along the A14

Recent news from post-excavation analysis of the excavations for the A14 Cambridge-to- Huntingdon improvement scheme (see CA 339), which recently won the Current Archaeology Award for Best Rescue Project of 2019, is bringing archaeobotany into the spotlight. Archaeobotanist Lara Gonzalez Carretero has discovered that organic samples taken from the site, dating to the Iron Age, are consistent with the by-product of making beer and may represent the earliest evidence for this process in Britain.

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Science Notes – Hidden in the soil: assessing the chemical composition of graves

In the early days of archaeology, human remains were often treated as an afterthought, deemed unable to tell us much about past populations. As we are well aware today, though, this could not be further from the truth, and in more recent decades the study of human bones has become a major component of archaeological research. But, despite this skeletal success, there is another key aspect of burials that remains relatively under-researched: the grave soil.

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