Archaeological science
Archaeological science, also known as archaeometry, consists of the application of scientific technique
Scientific technique
A scientific technique is any systematic way of obtaining information about a scientific nature or to obtain a desired material or product.Scientific techniques can be divided in many different groups, e.g.:# Preparative techniques...

s to the analysis of archaeological materials. Archaeometry is now considered its own scientific field. The UK's Natural and Environmental Research Council
Natural Environment Research Council
The Natural Environment Research Council is a British research council that supports research, training and knowledge transfer activities in the environmental sciences.-History:...

 provides funding for archaeometry separate from the funding provided for archaeology. Archaeological science involves dating and studying ancient materials. It is related to methodologies of archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...


Types of archaeological science

Archaeological science can be divided into the following areas:
  • physical and chemical dating method
    Chronology is the science of arranging events in their order of occurrence in time, such as the use of a timeline or sequence of events. It is also "the determination of the actual temporal sequence of past events".Chronology is part of periodization...

    s which provide archaeologists with absolute
    Absolute dating
    Absolute dating is the process of determining an approximate computed age in archaeology and geology. Some scientists prefer the terms chronometric or calendar dating, as use of the word "absolute" implies an unwarranted certainty and precision...

     and relative
    Relative dating
    Relative dating is the science determining the relative order of past events, without necessarily determining their absolute age.In geology rock or superficial deposits, fossils and lithologies can be used to correlate one stratigraphic column with another...

  • artifact
    Artifact (archaeology)
    An artifact or artefact is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest"...

  • environmental approaches which provide information on past landscapes, climates, flora, and fauna; as well as the diet, nutrition, health, and pathology
    Pathology is the precise study and diagnosis of disease. The word pathology is from Ancient Greek , pathos, "feeling, suffering"; and , -logia, "the study of". Pathologization, to pathologize, refers to the process of defining a condition or behavior as pathological, e.g. pathological gambling....

     of people
  • mathematical methods for data treatment (also encompassing the role of computers in handling, analyzing, and modeling the vast sources of data)
  • remote-sensing
    Remote sensing
    Remote sensing is the acquisition of information about an object or phenomenon, without making physical contact with the object. In modern usage, the term generally refers to the use of aerial sensor technologies to detect and classify objects on Earth by means of propagated signals Remote sensing...

     and geophysical-survey
    Geophysical survey
    Geophysical survey is the systematic collection of geophysical data for spatial studies. Geophysical surveys may use a great variety of sensing instruments, and data may be collected from above or below the Earth's surface or from aerial or marine platforms. Geophysical surveys have many...

     applications comprising a battery of non-destructive techniques for the location and characterization of buried features at the regional, micro-regional, and intra-site levels
  • conservation sciences
    Conservation sciences
    Conservation science or archaeological object conservation is the process by which an archaeological conservator increases the longevity of archaeological artifacts for future study. They do this by stabilizing, cleaning, and/or micro-excavating the artifact in question....

    , involving the study of decay processes and the development of new methods of conservation

Techniques such as lithic analysis
Lithic analysis
In archaeology, lithic analysis is the analysis of stone tools and other chipped stone artifacts using basic scientific techniques. At its most basic level, lithic analyses involve an analysis of the artifact’s morphology, the measurement of various physical attributes, and examining other visible...

, archaeometallurgy
Archaeometallurgy is the study of the history and prehistory of metals and their use through humans. It is a sub-discipline of archaeology and archaeological science...

, paleoethnobotany
Paleoethnobotany, also known as archaeobotany in European academic circles, is the archaeological sub-field that studies plant remains from archaeological sites...

, palynology
Palynology is the science that studies contemporary and fossil palynomorphs, including pollen, spores, orbicules, dinoflagellate cysts, acritarchs, chitinozoans and scolecodonts, together with particulate organic matter and kerogen found in sedimentary rocks and sediments...

 and zooarchaeology
Zooarchaeology, also known as Archaeozoology, is the study of animal remains from archaeological sites. The remains consist primarily of the hard parts of the body such as bones, teeth, and shells...

 also form sub-disciplines of archaeological science.

Influence of archaeometry

Archaeometry has greatly influenced modern archaeology. Archaeologists can obtain significant additional data and information using these techniques, and archeometry has the potential to alter the understanding of the past. The so-called "Second radiocarbon revolution" provides a good example of such alteration: it significantly re-dated European prehistory in the 1960s (the first radiocarbon revolution involved the original introduction of the method to archaeology from 1949). Some scholars are pressing all graduate programs in archaeology to include a survey course in archaeometry.

Dating techniques

Archaeological science has particular value when it can provide absolute dates for archaeological strata
In geology and related fields, a stratum is a layer of sedimentary rock or soil with internally consistent characteristics that distinguish it from other layers...

 and artifacts
Artifact (archaeology)
An artifact or artefact is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest"...

. Some of the most important dating techniques include:
  • radiocarbon dating
    Radiocarbon dating
    Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric dating method that uses the naturally occurring radioisotope carbon-14 to estimate the age of carbon-bearing materials up to about 58,000 to 62,000 years. Raw, i.e. uncalibrated, radiocarbon ages are usually reported in radiocarbon years "Before Present" ,...

     — especially for dating organic materials
  • dendrochronology
    Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating is the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree-rings. Dendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed, in many types of wood, to the exact calendar year...

     — for dating trees; also very important for calibrating radiocarbon dates
  • thermoluminescence dating
    Thermoluminescence dating
    Thermoluminescence dating is the determination, by means of measuring the accumulated radiation dose, of the time elapsed since material containing crystalline minerals was either heated or exposed to sunlight...

     — for dating inorganic material (including ceramics)
  • optically stimulated luminescence
    Optically stimulated luminescence
    In physics, optically stimulated luminescence is a method for measuring doses from ionizing radiation.The method makes use of electrons trapped between the valence and conduction bands in the crystalline structure of certain types of matter . The trapping sites are imperfections of the lattice -...

     (OSL)/optical dating
    Optical dating
    Optical dating is a method of determining how long ago minerals were last exposed to daylight. It is useful to geologists and archaeologists who want to know when such an event occurred....

     — for absolutely dating and relatively profiling buried land-surfaces in vertical and horizontal stratigraphic sections, most often by measuring photons discharged from grains of quartz
    Quartz is the second-most-abundant mineral in the Earth's continental crust, after feldspar. It is made up of a continuous framework of SiO4 silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall formula SiO2. There are many different varieties of quartz,...

     within sedimentary bodies (although this technique can also measure feldspar
    Feldspars are a group of rock-forming tectosilicate minerals which make up as much as 60% of the Earth's crust....

    s, complications caused by internally-induced dose-rates often favour the use of quartz-based analyzes in archaeological applications)
  • electron spin resonance, as used (for example) in dating teeth
  • potassium-argon dating
    Potassium-argon dating
    Potassium–argon dating or K–Ar dating is a radiometric dating method used in geochronology and archeology. It is based on measurement of the product of the radioactive decay of an isotope of potassium into argon . Potassium is a common element found in many materials, such as micas, clay minerals,...

     — for dating (for example) fossilized hominid
    The Hominidae or include them .), as the term is used here, form a taxonomic family, including four extant genera: chimpanzees , gorillas , humans , and orangutans ....


Artifact studies

Another important subdiscipline of archaeometry is the study of artifacts. Archaeometrists have used a variety of methods to analyze artifacts, either to determine more about their composition, or to determine their provenance. These techniques include:
  • X-ray fluorescence
    X-ray fluorescence
    X-ray fluorescence is the emission of characteristic "secondary" X-rays from a material that has been excited by bombarding with high-energy X-rays or gamma rays...

  • inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS)
  • neutron activation analysis
    Neutron activation analysis
    In chemistry, neutron activation analysis is a nuclear process used for determining the concentrations of elements in a vast amount of materials. NAA allows discrete sampling of elements as it disregards the chemical form of a sample, and focuses solely on its nucleus. The method is based on...

  • scanning electron microscopy
    Scanning electron microscope
    A scanning electron microscope is a type of electron microscope that images a sample by scanning it with a high-energy beam of electrons in a raster scan pattern...

  • laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS)

Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

, strontium
Strontium is a chemical element with the symbol Sr and the atomic number 38. An alkaline earth metal, strontium is a soft silver-white or yellowish metallic element that is highly reactive chemically. The metal turns yellow when exposed to air. It occurs naturally in the minerals celestine and...

 and oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

 isotope analysis
Isotope analysis
Isotope analysis is the identification of isotopic signature, the distribution of certain stable isotopes and chemical elements within chemical compounds. This can be applied to a food web to make it possible to draw direct inferences regarding diet, trophic level, and subsistence...

 can also test human remains to estimate the diets and even the birthplaces of a study's subjects.

Provenance analysis has the potential to determine the original source of the materials used, for example, to make a particular artifact. This can show how far the artifact has traveled and can indicate the existence of systems of exchange
Trade is the transfer of ownership of goods and services from one person or entity to another. Trade is sometimes loosely called commerce or financial transaction or barter. A network that allows trade is called a market. The original form of trade was barter, the direct exchange of goods and...


Locating Archaeological Sites

Archaeometry is also very helpful in finding potential dig sites. The use of remote sensing
Remote sensing
Remote sensing is the acquisition of information about an object or phenomenon, without making physical contact with the object. In modern usage, the term generally refers to the use of aerial sensor technologies to detect and classify objects on Earth by means of propagated signals Remote sensing...

 has enabled archaeologists to identify many more archaeological sites than they could have otherwise. The use of aerial photography
Aerial photography
Aerial photography is the taking of photographs of the ground from an elevated position. The term usually refers to images in which the camera is not supported by a ground-based structure. Cameras may be hand held or mounted, and photographs may be taken by a photographer, triggered remotely or...

 remains the most widespread remote-sensing technique, but archaeologists have supplemented it with the use of satellite imagery
Satellite imagery
Satellite imagery consists of photographs of Earth or other planets made by means of artificial satellites.- History :The first images from space were taken on sub-orbital flights. The U.S-launched V-2 flight on October 24, 1946 took one image every 1.5 seconds...

, especially with the declassification of images from military satellite
Military satellite
A military satellite is an artificial satellite used for a military purpose, often for gathering intelligence, as a communications satellite used for military purposes, or as a military weapon.-Description:*Star Wars program...

s. Ground-based geophysical survey
Archaeological geophysics
Geophysical survey in archaeology most often refers to ground-based physical sensing techniques used for archaeological imaging or mapping. Remote sensing and marine surveys are also used in archaeology, but are generally considered separate disciplines...

s often help to identify and map archaeological features within identified sites.
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