Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Can there ever really be such a thing as single context archaeology?

I made my first ever video this week. It is an attempt to visualise a concept that can be difficult to express - the relationship between micro (and sub-micro) stratigraphy that we can see under the microscope, to the macroscale deposits that most (non-micromorphologists) are familiar with in the field. It is hard to imagine something you cannot see, and as an archaeologist who has the privilege of being able to examine the 'invisible' archaeological record, I want to be able to show others these insights, which can have a significant impact on the process of interpretation. It is this thought that is the focus of a short article that has just been published on Then Dig, a peer reviewed blog hosted at Berkeley. The thoughts that I express there are a short glimpse into the theoretical (and practical) problems that I ponder frequently, and on which I hope to write something more extensive in the future.

To come back to the video, I am quite pleased with how it turned out. I made it in PowerPoint, and it isn't quite what I wanted to achieve in terms of 'zooming' between different scales, but hopefully it achieves what I was trying to show - that the complexity of the archaeology record increases the closer you look. Hopefully the first of many videos as I get better at it!

The video shows firstly a section through a Neolithic building at Kamiltepe, Azerbaijan, followed by a photo that zooms in to the section, where you can almost make out the series of plaster floors. The next image shows a micromorphology block that was taken through the section and set in resin - here you can begin to see that things are a little more complicated than they appear in the field. Within a block of 15cm of sediment, we can already see at least 5 individual layers, each only a few cm thick. And then we see 3 different views down the microscope - the first shows a floor surface, which you can make out as a very defined horizontal line, overlain by a yellowish fragment of bone and microscopic charcoal. A layer of dirt! The second shows  another layer, with tiny chippings of lithic microdebitage, perhaps from where someone sat retouching of a stone tool. The final image shows a later layer, again only a few mm, with lots of yellow bone fragments and organic remains. This building had rather dirty floors!

Can there ever really be such a thing as single context archaeology?

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