Photons in the Field: New Approaches to the Use of Portable X-ray Fluorescence (pXRF) in Archaeological Fieldwork

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

In recent years there have been many pioneering advances in the field of science that have led to a symbiotic relationship between scientific enquiry and archaeology that has significantly advanced current academic knowledge. However, many of these scientific methods must operate in a controlled laboratory environment and often necessitate the destruction—in whole or in part—of the artefact under investigation such as with isotope, DNA, X-ray Diffraction or Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy analysis. These factors, along with issues relating to time, finance, legality and/or the export of cultural heritage, inhibit the application of various scientific studies in numerous research contexts. Within this problematic scientific environment came a ground-breaking technology, portable X-ray Fluorescence (pXRF): a non-destructive, portable instrument for elemental compositional measurement. This symposium seeks to examine the viability of pXRF in the field and its potential employment to resolve these issues. It will focus on the benefits, scope and limitations of using this specific form of equipment, and investigate how this technology can contribute to quantitative analysis of anthropological and archaeological historical studies.

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  • Documents (6)

  • Analysis of metallurgical artefacts using pXRF: Understanding metalwork during the contact period in Colombia (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jimena Lobo Guerrero Arenas.

    The encounter between the Americas and Europe has been extensively studied. In these studies, gold and silver, its looting, mining and trading are usually the focus of attention. However, the characteristics of metalwork after the conquest have inspired fewer investigations. In this paper I present the results of analyses of samples of metallic and ceramic artifacts, using portable X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry (pXRF). These artifacts belong to past metallurgical activities, and were found in...

  • The Copper Trade of Hatteras Island (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Charlotte Goudge.

    Excavations at the early contact Native American site on Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina has yielded a number of copper artefacts in the course of the past six years of excavation. The excavations were run in conjunction with the University of Bristol and the Croatoan Archaeology Society in order to examine historic environment and settlement patterns of the island, as well as analyse the site’s material culture of both the local Croatoan natives and the European imports. Analyses...

  • Ethics and In-situ Science (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mark Horton.

    The process of archaeological excavation is in itself destructive and excavators can and do cause irreparable damage and the demolition of site context. Archaeological ethics reacts to protect artefacts and sites that are in danger of destruction or loss. The desire to protect cultural heritage causes many ethical theorists to suggest that artefacts must not be recovered at all from their contexts. However to allow the find to remain in the ground opens it up to theft, destruction and loss just...

  • Exploration in portable X-ray Fluorescence (pXRF) applications to zooarchaeology (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alexis Ohman.

    Current research in portable X-ray Fluorescence (pXRF) applications for archaeological research constantly attempts to push the boundaries of what this technology can accomplish. Although research involving lithics, glass, metals and ceramics remain the most common venues of investigation, bone has also become an innovative focus of inquiry. However, because it has been studied significantly less than these other forms of material culture there is still much that is unknown in terms of how...

  • Indian Creek Revisited: The Use of Portable X-ray Fluorescence (pXRF) Soil Analysis to Characterize Areas Without Artifacts (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Cory Look. Erin Friedman. Matthew Brown. Reg Murphy.

    This paper reports on a preliminary study assessing the applicability for pXRF analysis of soils within a Pre-Columbian context. The data generated for this discussion comes from the site of Indian Creek, Antigua; an Amerindian site bound by a series of middens forming a concentric ring around the perimeter of the site. This settlement is the result of over 1300 years of continuous occupation, before it was abandoned just prior to contact in the New World. Aside from the excavations conducted...

  • Interpreting Ecclesiastical Mobility: A pXRF Study of Medieval Gravestones in Ireland (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Madeleine Gunter. Nathan Goodale. David Bailey. Ian Kuijt. Ryan Lash.

    Western Ireland’s early medieval (700-1200 AD) landscape—dotted with stone cemeteries and structures—provides an ideal setting for studying ecclesiastical lifeways through methods of raw materials characterization. Archaeological analyses and oral history suggest that people living in small ecclesiastical communities between the 6th and the 12th centuries exchanged and transported gravestones. While traditional archaeological analysis of the shape and stylistic design of gravestones from five...