SAS Bulletin

Volume 20   Number 1/2   January /June 1997

Archaeological Chemistry: Organic, Inorganic, and Biochemical Analysis.

Mary Virginia Orna (ed.) American Chemical Society Symposium Series #625, Washington, DC, 1996. xi + 459 pp., $109.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-8412-3395-0.

Reviewed by George (Rip) Rapp, Jr., Archaeometry Laboratory, University of Minnesota, Duluth MN 55812 USA

    This book was developed from a symposium sponsored by the Divisions of the History of Chemistry, Chemical Education, and Analytical Chemistry, and the ACS Committees on Education and on Science at the 1995 National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. This volume is the fifth in the ACS series that is devoted to archaeological chemistry. The first was volume 138 (1974) followed by 171 (1978), 205 (1984), 220 (1981989) and now 625 (1996). Most members of the Society for Archaeological Sciences should be familiar with these volumes.
    There are 31 chapters/papers representing a broad range of analytical techniques in archaeological chemistry, beginning with an introductory chapter by volume editor Mary Virginia Orna and Joseph B Lambert (who edited the earlier #205). This introduction, entitled ėNew Directions in Archaeological Chemistryî succinctly lays out what this volume contains and why the symposium was organized. Anyone wondering about the necessity of reading this book should first read these eight pages.
    Orna and Lambert rightly point out (in my view) that ėmolecular archaeology is making great strides by utilization of sophisticated instrumentation.î The editors indicate that a major thrust of the symposium was devoted to papers dealing with gaining information about the peopling of the New World ­ an area of research where molecular biochemistry is playing an increasing, if not dominant, role. However, other methodologies and research areas were not neglected. The introductory chapter makes it clear that the symposium and volume are organized around four themes: inorganic materials; archaeological soils; organic materials [fibers and dyes]; and biological materials [archaeological bone, connective tissue, DNA, radiocarbon measurements].
    To express the breadth of this volume one is tempted to list the 31 papers but that would preclude any review. Suffice it to say that topics range from the analysis and chemical chronology of glass; through ESR, ICP, XRD, TL, C-14, stable isotope, and INNA applications; two papers on the Shroud of Turin; four papers on bone; six papers on fibers and textiles; and four papers that utilized biomolecular techniques. Parenthetically, I am a bit surprised that so few of the papers in this volume are from the ėhot topicsî in biomolecular/biochemical archaeometry. Major arguments are raging about DNA versus linguistic groups and a very good paper highlighting the status of analytical problems would have been very valuable.
    The biochemical/biomolecular papers were devoted to the application of multimolecular/biomarker techniques to the identification of fecal material in archaeological soils and sediments (Evershed and Bethell); historico- chemical analysis of plant dyestuffs used in textiles from ancient Israel (Koren); ancient DNA in Texas rock paintings (Reese et al); and ancient nucleic acids in prehispanic Mexican populations (Vargas-Sanders et al). Although all were interesting and informative only the last of these papers relates to peopling of the New World. The paper by Batt and Pollard on radiocarbon calibration and the peopling of North America is the only paper directly addressing critical issues in the peopling of the New World. Perhaps other papers presented did not make it into the symposium volume.
    This criticism aside I have found all five of the volumes in this American Chemical Society series to be quite valuable. The paper by Evershed and co-workers on means of analyzing for characteristic steroidal marker compounds allows us to obtain here to fore unavailable information. I teach a broad-based archaeological science graduate course on the Duluth and the Twin Cities campuses of the University of Minnesota and the range of papers in these volumes provides an insight into the spectrum of applications in chemical analysis based archaeology. I have found few ėpotboilersî among the offerings. This volume continues this fine tradition with important papers that perhaps I would not otherwise see.

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