Raw Material Lab


A decade of intensive work of the Quaternary Archaeology research group on lithic material analyses resulted in the establishment of an in-house Raw Material Laboratory. The close cooperation with the expertise of the University of Vienna (G. Trnka) was a crucial factor for the effective implementation of this facility. The head of the lab (M. Brandl) developed a specific method for provenance studies of lithic artefacts, which has been successfully tested in the framework of several international studies. Additionally, a reference collection of lithic raw materials from European and extra-European regions was established, which forms an essential basis for subsequent research.

Prima goal of this analytical facility are material and provenance studies of rocks and other materials from archaeological contexts. The Raw Material Lab combines high resolution reflected light microscopy for a non-destructive analysis of large objects and petrography applying polarized light microscopy for thin section analyses. Both units are coupled with a state of the art camera system for optimal standardized microphoto documentation.

The following analytical instruments are available in the Raw Material Lab:

  • Stereomicroscope (reflected light): Zeiss SteREO Discovery.V20.
    Magnification: Steplessly adjustable 1 – 150 X
  • Polarized light microscope for thin section analyses: Zeiss Axio Scope.A1 Pol.
    Objectives (magnifications): 1 X – 2.5 X – 5 X – 10 X – 20 X – 40 X
  • Microscope camera: Axiocam 305 color

The resources of the lab are also available for externally funded ceramic, leather and fur analyses involving various ongoing projects.

Analyses of lithic raw materials

The main focus of rock analyses is on siliceous raw materials such as chert and flint (silicites). Chipped stone tools produced from silicites are amongst the most abundant artefact types at prehistoric sites. A crucial question concerns the characterization (“fingerprinting”) of such raw materials in order to unambiguously differentiate them from other, similar materials. Sound provenance studies form the basis to answer scientific questions pertaining to prehistoric resource management, involving the procurement, processing and distribution of lithic raw materials.

The main focus of rock analyses is on siliceous raw materials such as chert and flint (silicites). Chipped stone tools produced from silicites are amongst the most abundant artefact types at prehistoric sites. A crucial question concerns the characterization (“fingerprinting”) of such raw materials in order to unambiguously differentiate them from other, similar materials. Sound provenance studies form the basis to answer scientific questions pertaining to prehistoric resource management, involving the procurement, processing and distribution of lithic raw materials.

Analysis of Ceramics

The raw material lab also advises on and undertakes analysis of ceramic raw materials and potting technology deconstructing the Chaîne opératoire of production. Stereoscopic examination allows high quality recording of macroscopic fabrics and technological features, such as evidence of forming on the surface and breaks of pottery sherds. This is combined with thin section petrography using a polarising light microscope to examine clay pastes at high magnification. This technique enables the identification of raw materials and potting practices such as clay mixing, providing information about possible raw material sources, pottery movement and crafting traditions.

This work is complimented by more detailed examination of firing conditions and the composition of slips and paints through scanning electron microscopy, and the chemical composition of fabrics using Neutron Activation Analysis in partnership with labs in Austria, Greece, Germany and America.

Projects

Lithics

Palaeolithic

Characterisation and provenance studies of the following lithic assemblages:

  • Krems-Hundssteig (Austria)
  • Krems-Wachtberg (Austria)
  • Stratzing (Austria)
  • Several sites in the scope of the AQS-project (Austrian Quaternary Sites: Gobelsburg, Senftenberg, Spannberg)
  • Repolust Cave (Austria)
  • Zigeuner Cave (Austria)
  • Maisières-Canal (Belgium, cooperation with Luc Moreau, University of Cambridge)

Neolithic

  • Investigation of the Neolithic Rein Basin chert quarry (Austria)
  • Vienna-Mauer and additional Neolithic radiolarite quarries in the St. Veit Klipppen Belt west of Vienna (Austria)
  • Chert source areas and provenance studies of chipped stone artifacts in southeast Crete (Greece)
  • Characterisation and provenance studies of chocolate silicites from south-central Poland
  • Characterisation and provenance studies of the chert finds from Çukuriçi Höyük (Turkey)
  • Raw material characterisation of the lithic assemblage from Bergama (Turkey)
  • Characterisation of Early Neolithic chert resources in the Pusta Reka region (Serbia)
  • Characterisation of selected lithics from Platia Magoula Zarkou (Greece)

Others

  • Characterisation of chert resources in Northern Belize
  • The obsidian assemblage from Punta di Zambrone (Italy)
  • Provenance of Scandinavian Ballast flint (Denmark, Sweden, Germany)
  • International gunflint provenance studies

Fundamental research

Leather and fur technologies

Leather and fur analyses for the following projects: