Getting to the Source: Copper Characterization, Prehistory, and the question of Interpretation

Author(s): Gregory Lattanzi

Year: 2017


One cannot truly "source" the raw material of an artifact back to its geologic origin. One can chemically characterize an artifact's raw materia,l to a degree, to make an interpretation as to its likeliest point of origin. As we are dealing with a completely heterogeneous material - copper - archaeologists can only best guess the likely geologic source for the cultural artifacts they are testing. The chemical differentiation of distinct geologic deposits of native copper has been well established, but the same cannot be said for artifacts made from copper. Archaeologists involved in chemical characterization studies use different protocols, laboratories, machines, and different standards. Specific elements and isotopes are purposefully chosen for our analyses, and the results are then subjected to rigorous statistical analyses. The data are then presented in such a way that the archaeologist interprets them as highly likely to have originated from a specific geologic source. This presentation discusses the basic assumptions of chemical characterization, how as archaeologists we must be careful in our interpretations of the data, and how there should be some common protocol for the future of prehistoric copper studies.

Cite this Record

Getting to the Source: Copper Characterization, Prehistory, and the question of Interpretation. Gregory Lattanzi. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431781)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -84.067; min lat: 36.031 ; max long: -72.026; max lat: 43.325 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 16785