From the President

I have been so busy with administrative matters lately that I’d rather write about teaching than about being President. One of the questions we often ask ourselves is how do we train the next generation of archaeometrists? For some years, I have hoped to teach an undergraduate course in archaeometry. What better subject to teach at a liberal arts college than the application of techniques of the natural sciences to archaeology? This year I submitted a proposal for a new course, Archaeometry - Natural Sciences as Applied to Archaeology, which was accepted. I plan to teach this course for the first time next fall.

This new course dovetails with new curricular developments that are taking place college-wide. After satisfying distribution requirements, all students will be required to complete an Exploration, a group "of at least three courses outside the major field of study with demonstrated intellectual coherence and progression beyond the introductory level." Archaeometry will be part of an Exploration cluster in archaeology, along with archaeology classes from the Department of Anthropology, and classical archaeology courses from the Department of Classics. It would also satisfy the lab science distribution requirement. The course is formally cross-listed as a Geosciences and as an Anthropology course.

Prerequisites for the course are either one archaeology course or a previous lab science course. I am hoping to capitalize on the backgrounds, expertise and interests of the students to form interdisciplinary teams to examine real archaeometric problems in the field and in the lab. I would hope to use artifacts from the collections of the Anthropology and Classics Departments, and Lancaster’s North Museum. We would use existing analytical methods in the various science departments, including archaeomagnetism, field geophysics, petrography, XRF, XRD, SEM, Mössbauer spectroscopy, and GC/mass spectrometry.

The majority of the grade would come from a lab-based project. This would be written up in segments as the semester progressed. My ideal would be to apply various analytical methods to a common group of artifacts. The students would work in groups and present posters on the results of their group’s method. The students would write individual papers incorporating the results of all the groups.

The Catalog description of the course reads as follows: "How old is it? What is it? Where does it come from? How was it made? Where is it? Why did they live there? How did they live? This course will examine the application of various methods from the natural sciences to the study of archaeological environments and artifacts. Scientific principles underlying techniques will be discussed, as well as the application to archaeological problems. Major topics include: dating; analysis and characterization of artifacts; location of sites and features within sites; paleoenvironment and paleoecology. Labs and grading for the course will focus on analysis of artifacts by students in teams, using multiple methods, with presentation of results by posters and term papers. The prerequisite is either one archaeology course or one lab science course." A preliminary course outline:

A. Dating - How old is it?

1. stratigraphy

2. tree rings

3. carbon-14

4. archaeomagnetism

5. thermoluminescence

6. case studies

a. peopling of Europe, New World

b. destruction of Minoan civilization

c. Southwestern U.S.

d. Shroud of Turin

B. Analysis/Characterization - What is it? Where does it come from? How was it made?

1. techniques

a. chemical analysis

b. isotopic studies

c. microscopy

2. applications

a. authenticity of artifacts

b. provenance of artifacts

c. technology of manufacture

3. case studies

a. ceramics

b. marble

c. metallurgy

C. Location - Where is it?

1. remote sensing

2. geophysical prospecting

3. geochemical prospecting

4. case studies

a. Cahokia Mounds

D. Paleoenvironment and paleoecology - Why did they live there? How did they live?

1. archaeological sediments

2. paleogeomorphology

3. prehistoric cultures and climate

4. case studies

a. Mayan civilization and water

b. Anasazi and climate

For a textbook, I plan to use P. A. Parkes, Current Scientific Techniques in Archaeology, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1986. This will be supplemented by additional readings. I reviewed this book in the Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin 13(4): 4-8, 1990. It still seems to be the best text for an introductory undergraduate course.

I would be interested to hear from others who have taught or contemplated similar courses. I hope to learn from and contribute to the Teaching Archaeometry web page, at the University of Illinois (URL: This page already contains information from two similar courses: Anth 131 - Archaeological Science, University of California, Berkeley, taught by Steve Shackley; Anth 221 - Materials and Civilization: An Overview of Archaeometry, University of Illinois, taught by Sarah Wisseman. Perhaps a future session of the Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting or the Archaeometry Symposium can be devoted to teaching.

Rob Sternberg March 3, 1998