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Special issue focuses on growth of archeological science

Alan Flurry

Suzanne Pilaar Birch, associate professor of anthropology, served as co-editor of a special issue published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences featuring articles outlining the state of the art in archeological science.

A collection of articles from the Recent Advances in Archaeological Science Techniques Special Feature explores developments in archaeological science, highlighting advancements in radiometric dating, stable isotope and trace element analysis, and proteomics. In one study, researchers compare zinc and other isotope ratios in the tooth enamel of a Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) and other mammals from a Paleolithic site in Spain, finding that meat likely comprised a significant portion of Neanderthal diets. A study of the origins of 1,945 obsidian artifacts from Neolithic sites in the southern Zagros Mountains using portable, nondestructive X-ray fluorescence instruments reveals dynamic and accelerating connectivity among Early and Late Neolithic communities in the region, likely driven by rising population densities. In another study, researchers radiocarbon date dairy fat residues preserved in pottery vessels to estimate that dairying arrived into Central Europe in 5445–5230 BCE along with the first farmers settling in the region, rather than being gradually adopted later. Researchers also sequence ancient proteins from 50,000-year-old eggshells exploited by Australia’s first peoples and compare the fossil proteins to data from 364 bird species, finding that the eggs likely belonged to the extinct giant flightless bird Genyornis newtoni. Together, the collection looks beyond genetic techniques in archaeological science and emphasizes the importance of equitable data management and research accessibility.

The lead article co-authored by Birch, Current developments and future directions in archaeological science, describes how the field has grown to encompass a wide range of analytical techniques over the past 20 years:

As the field of archaeological science matures, several key issues remain. The need for care and maintenance of the physical collections that are sampled cannot be overstated (62). Likewise, there is a need for improvement in bridging archaeological science and local stakeholders, including indigenous knowledge and participation, from theoretical inception alongside methodological development (6365). The advancement and application of new techniques may be paramount, but must not surpass concomitant efforts in data management, stewardship of physical collections, and increase in equity of practice: namely, an ethics of practice that is adhered to by all engaged in the discipline.

Read the full article.

Image: PNAS cover, October 17, 2022


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