Using physical methods to identify the process of chemical alteration in archaeological materials: A case study from Bronze Age Russia

Dr. John Dudgeon
ISU Dept. of Anthropology
Research Scientist, Center for Archaeology, Materials and Applied Spectroscopy (CAMAS)

By combining high-precision SEM-EDS with the trace element sensitivity of LA-ICP-MS, we demonstrate that it is possible to separate and account for the variable signatures of biological uptake of metals which are incorporated via diet or exposure throughout an individual’s life, versus diagenetic, or post-depositional alteration of bone buried in the soil after death. Our group analyzed Middle Bronze Age human and animal bone to determine the likelihood of positively identifying copper and bronze makers through trace metal uptake in life and after death. LA-ICP-MS trace element chemistry calibrated by SEM-EDS can distinguish and quantify patterns of occupational uptake and post-burial diagenesis.