Laboratory Life

Guest post from Adam Allentuck (Postdoctoral Fellow, University College London, Website)

Adam and Trine analyzing bones

The popular perception that archaeology begins and ends in the trenches is untrue. During fieldwork, excavators meticulously remove sediments, fill-out record sheets, measure and photograph features, collect artifacts, draw section plans, and perform other such painstaking work. Most importantly, excavation is discovery. But this is just the beginning of a process of discovery. At the end of every day of excavation at Kharaneh IV the lithics, animal bones, bulk sediment samples and records are brought back to the laboratory at our house in Azraq where cataloguing and processing occur. The time required to process, record and analyse archaeological finds is far greater than the time it takes to excavate them. For this reason, it’s import to highlight our efforts in the laboratory.

The work in the laboratory essentially picks up where the excavators stop. At Kharaneh IV we collect one hundred per cent of the undisturbed deposits in order recover even the smallest burnt seeds and the tiniest chipped stone debitage. This process, called flotation, involes a barrel tank and gentle flow of water that separates the sediments from the archaeological materials within. Dobrina, our flotation technician, expertly guides charcoal and other delicate botanicals that float through a spout on the rim of the tank into a fine mesh bag below. A coarser flat mesh within the tank catches the materials that sink. The sediments pass through the mesh and settle to the bottom of the tank. The end result is two samples – the flot that contains botanicals and the heavy fraction that contains lithics, bones, shell, and a few unwanted pebbles. Since Jordan is frequently in a state of water shortage, we recycle the overflowing water with a second tank and a pump.

flotation in action
Dobrina and Joe at flotation

Once the various flotation samples are dried, Dobrina carefully transfers the botanicals into small vials and other lab staff separate lithics and bone. A further step is to divide the lithics into broad types, such as blades, flakes and debitage. Danielle will soon conduct detailed analyses of these lithic samples. and Animal bones are also sorted into broad categories such as diagnostics, tortoise shell, and long bone shafts. Trine, who is learning animal bone analysis, is showing a great aptitude for zooarchaeology.

Flotation in action!

In addition to managing the lab, my work is primarily focused on analysing faunal remains from Structure 1, which was excavated in 2010 and 2013, and floated and sorted this year. After Trine does the initial sorting of animal bones, I further refine categories and record the data in a spreadsheet. I record various types of data such as the anatomical element, animal taxon, body side, bone fusion, and butchery marks. I also record measurements of long bone fragment length and I take biometrical measurements, which will later be used to determine the ratios of male to female animals for the most abundant species. Gazelles are by far the most abundant taxon in most contexts. They’re distantly followed by a small wild equids (likely onager), hare, fox and tortoise. Less common animals from Kharaneh IV include aurochs, wolf or dog (notoriously difficult to tell apart), a small wild cat, ostrich, and various small birds. The faunal data generated from my work will help inform the environmental reconstruction and more immediately, inform our understanding of how Early Epipalaeolithic hunter-gatherers prepared food and organized their internal living spaces.

sorting lithics
Lithic sorting in the evenings

At Kharaneh IV, archaeological research is a multi-stage process managed through coordinated efforts among generalists and specialists. Our collaborative, multi-disciplinary endeavour requires cooperation among fieldworkers at the site and staff at the laboratory. As such, our discoveries are made as a team and at every step of the way.

By DanielleMacdonald

Archaeologist, academic, working in Jordan, teaching in Tulsa

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