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Scientific finds analyses

Having carefully recorded the finds as part of the initial stage of processing they are assessed for conservation. The vast majority of materials from Portus does not require active conservation treatment. So, materials can be placed in appropriate packaging such as acid free paper and bags, and then placed into storage. The ARK database and the initial photographs allow these objects then to be evaluated by the finds specialists.

Earlier in the course you learned about the experts in palaeobotany and zooarchaeology who will deal with the seeds, bones and other organic finds. They sometimes use specialist approaches to extract additional information from these finds. For example, seeds may be hand sorted initially and then analysed in detail under a microscope. Faunal remains will similarly first be analysed by hand but then examined under the microscope to identify smaller surface features. A small subset of bones may also be laser scanned or recorded through reflectance transfomation imaging to provide the ability to interact with the objects virtually - for example when they are in storage or eventually when they move to a museum or other institution. These digital data also allow automated searching - the computer calculates volumes and areas that can be important in determining factors such as sex or age, and can also increasingly pick out more complex surface markers automatically. These analytical results can then be described via a digital note and shared with others.

In the next step you will learn about human remains. Increasingly researchers are laser scanning human remains to capture and share surface changes, which can be helpful in determining disease - see for example the work of the fantastic Digitised Diseases project. Human remains are also analysed using other scientific techniques such as oxygen isotope analysis which identifies chemical elements in teeth as a way of exploring the diet of people at Portus. Similar methods are used in the lab to identify the origin of artefacts. In week one we also learned about lipid analysis of ceramics which is again undertaken in laboratories, Many of these methods are very dependent on the lack of contamination of the samples and also in the way the samples have been treated, including the way they arrived in the archaeological record - how they were discarded, buried and recovered.

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Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome

University of Southampton

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