Science Notes

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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 – Bridging the gap in London’s prehistory

Over recent decades, developments in radiocarbon dating techniques have revolutionised our ability to establish the age of archaeological material and to interpret the past (see CA 359). In this month’s Science Notes we will be exploring how, thanks to further advances in this field, ‘the most significant group of Early Neolithic pottery ever uncovered in London’ has shed intriguing light on the capital’s prehistoric past.

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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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