Ceramics for the Archaeologist

Ceramics for the Archaeologist

Ceramics for the Archaeologist

Ceramics for the Archaeologist

Excerpt

The fact that the archaeologist draws his knowledge of prehistoric cultures largely from the remains of material things places him in a unique position with relation to the physical sciences. Although he works in the field of the social sciences, he can apply the methods of analysis which the laboratory sciences offer, and he has long shown readiness to avail himself of the opportunity. For their part, scientists in other fields have taken keen interest in archaeological materials. Thus, chemical analyses of metal objects were made as early as 1796, long before archaeology had become a systematic discipline; petrography analyses of thin sections of pottery were published in 1893, only 31 years after transparent sections of rock were first prepared and the microscope was adapted to their study; and investigation of the value of carbon14 for dating archaeological material followed close on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It may be said that the attitude of the archaeologist, is in part a reflection of the conditioning of our minds in this age; we are predisposed to look to the sciences for short cuts and new solutions. But psychological climate is not an adequate explanation. Materials must lend themselves to the laboratory and the results of analysis must have meaning in terms of culture history to command the archaeologist's attention.

The relation of archaeology to certain of the sciences is so intimate that their individual contributions can hardly be separated and evaluated independently. One of the most telling examples of this interplay of disciplines is the correlation of geological and archaeological data in the study of Early Man. Despite the archaeologist's fortunate position in relation to the sciences, however, much of the analytical work he requires is on the level of identification and is farmed out to different specialists--animal bones to the zoologist, shells to the conchologist, plant remains to the botanist, rocks to the petrographer, metals to the metallurgist, and so on. When, as in these cases, the archaeologist does not have an opportunity actually to participate--does not formulate questions and follow developments--it is difficult for him to interpret results and relate them to archaeological problems, and the instances in which raw data serve as spring- boards for further investigation are all too infrequent. Furthermore, the routine analysis demanded for identification is not stimulating to the analyst. His con-

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