Science Notes

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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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Current Archaeology 348

This month finds us making our final preparations for our annual conference on 8-9 March – I look forward to meeting many of you there, and if you haven’t yet bought your ticket it’s not too late. For the latest details of CA Live! 2019, including our complete timetable, turn to p.62. While planning a […]

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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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Science Notes – Researching residues: the detection of opium in a Bronze Age juglet

In the last decade or so we have experienced a revolution in archaeological science, and one of the most exciting aspects of this is the extraordinary level of detail that we can glean from everyday objects. But while we are constantly pushing the boundaries of what we can discover from archaeological remains, we are also constantly reminded of the constraints we still face. This dichotomy is well evidenced in a study, recently published in the journal Analyst, on the detection of opioids in archaeological contexts.

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Science Notes – Weaning ourselves off bone for isotopic analysis?

With the remarkable potential of isotopic analysis making recent headlines (see p.18), it seems apt to talk a bit more about this technique. Among the wealth of archaeological questions isotope analysis can help to answer are: where was an individual born and raised, did they migrate during their lifetimes, what did they predominately eat, and when were they weaned? As this is a relatively new and ever-evolving methodology, though, some of the wrinkles are still being ironed out – and one of the biggest questions currently being explored is whether bone is as effective as teeth in reflecting the isotopic values that a person accumulated in life.

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Science Notes – The Stonehenge bluestones and research replication

In this month’s Science Notes, we turn to one of the most immediately recognisable monuments in the world – Stonehenge – examining how the origin of its bluestones was taken for granted for so long, and how it shows why research is ever evolving, and never absolute.

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Current Archaeology 342

Even a brand new town can hold ancient secrets. That is certainly the case at Sherford, currently under construction outside Plymouth, where wide-ranging excavations have revealed a wealth of clues to much earlier occupation spanning thousands of years. Some of the Sherford structures are enigmatic, but the estate covered in our next feature is downright […]

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Science Notes – Studying the secrets of syphilis

While we have talked a lot about ancient DNA (aDNA) in ‘Science Notes’, it has mainly been in the context of decoding ancient human genomes. We have not really delved into the other applications of the methodology, including the detection of ancient pathogens. However, this is a quickly emerging area that could have a huge impact on how we are able to study health and disease in the past, and deserves some unpicking.

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Science Notes – Revisiting radiocarbon: no, it has not been debunked

In today’s era of ‘fake news’, we haven’t been entirely surprised to see recent headlines claiming new research has proven that radiocarbon dating is inaccurate or plain wrong (one even went so far as to say ‘A Crucial Archaeological Dating Tool is Wrong, and It Could Change History as We Know It’). To be fair, once you get past the headlines, the articles mostly provide a bit more of the truth and a little less clickbait. Nonetheless, we thought it pertinent to delve into the actual science of this discovery and offer a more impartial, if less sensationalist, account of the findings.

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Science Notes – Bridging the divide: the role of science in archaeology

This month we are doing something a little different, exploring a wider theme rather than a specific technique. A recent public-interest piece in Nature – published in response to their research paper about the Bell Beaker culture (for more on this research, see CA 338) – discusses the ‘sometimes straining’ relationship between archaeologists and geneticists.

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