Friday, 6 May 2016

Micrograph: Layers within layers

I love this image. It's another one from Catalhoyuk, a nice midden in the South Area (unit 17739). I published a paper on these deposits in Antiquity which included this image, so I'll let you read the paper to find out more about this area and its significance. Here I wanted to show a close up of this image and the beautiful but daunting complexity of archaeological deposits under the microscope. What we are looking at is a tiny fragment of wall plaster mixed in with ashy debris and charcoal. A few years ago I did a post about these plaster deposits, as they are found within buildings at Catalhoyuk, on floors and walls. By counting the layers we can see the frequency with which the inhabitants were re-plastering and 'repainting' their houses - regular cycles of maintenance on an annual and seasonal basis. This layer in the midden shows a fragment which has fallen off a wall, and somehow made its way into the midden, probably through sweeping and dumping of debris, but could potentially also have gotten there through other transport mechanisms, such as on the soles of someone's feet. The unit shows evidence of the deposits having been trampled, so it's a definite possibility. It makes you think about the difficulties in working with microscopic remains such as phytoliths and microcharcoal. The processes of deposition are incredibly complex, and understanding exactly where these materials came from can be difficult. An experimental study by Banerjea et al (2015) showed that geochemical signals can also be the result of material being transported on the soles of feet, often from completely different parts of a site. The signals that are detected archaeologically do not necessarily represent the activity that took place in that area...

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