New Technology Gives On-Site Assessments in Archaeology

The ability to tell the difference between crystals that formed naturally and those formed by human activity can be important to archaeologists in the field.  This can be a crucial bit of information in determining the ancient activities that took place at a site, yet archaeologists often wait for months for the results of laboratory tests.

Now, however, an international team of physicists, archaeologists and materials scientists has developed a process that can tell in a matter of minutes the origin of samples thousands of years old. The new device is easily portable and works by “lifting off” the spectral fingerprint of a material with infrared light.

The first material tested was the mineral calcite, commonly found in rocks such as limestone, which forms over millions years in sediments. These rocks can also contain the mineralized shells of sea creatures. Archaeological sites may also feature calcite that was a part of ash, plaster, or other building materials.

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