New Database Describes All the Marbles

By Perkins, S. | Science News, November 18, 2000 | Go to article overview

New Database Describes All the Marbles


Perkins, S., Science News


Scientific detectives use atomic isotopes for more than tracking down the sources of drugs (see related story, this page). With a new database of isotopic ratios measured in samples of Greek marble, researchers can identify the quarries that supplied the stone for some of Europe's most famous statues and architecture.

More than 150 quarries dot the southern slopes of Greece's Mount Pentelikon, which lies about 18 kilometers northeast of Athens. These sites have been a primary source of white marble for the eastern Mediterranean region for the past 2,500 years.

Archaeologists and art historians typically have tried to identify the specific sources of the marble by examining such factors as the rock's texture or the size of its mineral grains, says Scott Pike, a geologist at Emory University's Oxford College in Oxford, Ga. In the 1970s, scientists began efforts to discriminate varieties of marble by measuring the respective ratios of carbon and oxygen isotopes in the rock. At the time, their database was limited because documented samples from historically important sites were scarce.

With the cooperation of the Greek Ministry of Culture, Pike has collected about 1,000 samples from all of the quarries on Mount Pentelikon, including those that operated in ancient times. Analysis of more than 600 samples showed isotopic fingerprints that could enable scientists to distinguish among small groups of the quarries. Pike presented his findings this week in Reno, Nev.

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New Database Describes All the Marbles
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