From precious stones to utilitarian wares

The value of geoscience in archaeology

Science in Archaeology Lunch Talks (SALT)
4 December 2017

Speaker: Prof. dr. Patrick Degryse, Professor and Head of Geology, KU Leuven (Belgium), Professor of Archaeometry, Leiden University

Abstract: The study of the history and technology of ancient materials has always been an essential part of archaeological and anthropological research. Especially the origin of raw materials, their transformation into objects and their exchange/trade have been topics of investigation. Almost as soon as analysis techniques from the geosciences had been invented, they were introduced to archaeological-anthropological research.

However, the nature of archaeological research, and in particular the sometimes unpredictable aspects of human behavior, necessitates a careful interpretation of geochemical data, that is not always straightforward. Some techniques in archaeological materials research have been abandoned by the sheer difficulty in finding the right questions to be answered. Nevertheless, the past decade has seen a sharp increase in the number of studies produced. The origins of materials, and the provenance of the raw materials used in their making, are still crucial aspects in the study of the history of ancient societies. However, it is more and more realized that a correct interpretation of geochemical data, and a translation to an archaeological-anthropological reality, is necessary. Examples of the use of geochemical analysis in the study of the origins of metallurgy and vitreous materials, the movement of people and ideas and the economics involved in glass making will be discussed.

About the speaker: Patrick Degryse is Professor of Archaeometry at the universities of Leuven (Belgium) and Leiden (the Netherlands), where he leads a team of some 20 graduate students, post docs and technicians, researching the provenance of raw materials for ancient ceramic, glass, metal and stone production. He uses techniques from the earth sciences to study ancient technology, trade and exchange. Main research projects include the ERC funded “ARCHGLASS” project, studying the Greco-Roman glass economy, and projects on the origin of early pyrotechnologies and vitreous materials. Field projects include excavations and surveys in the Mediterranean    and the Caribbean, next to object studies in co-operation with Harvard University and the Getty Conservation Institute.