Archaeometry could be defined as using experimental methods as well as methods emanating from engineering and basic sciences to study cultural heritage scientifically. With its modern well-known formats, archaeometry answers some important questions including the following:
– Answering archeological questions in terms of artifacts origins, mining processes, identifying methods for manufacturing technical items and optimization of materials
– Authenticating artifacts and dating mineral and organic materials
– Identifying structures and characteristics of museum and ancient materials (mainly their (physical, chemical and mineral features) which are uses as the main basis for pathology and recognizing their destruction and treatment processes
– Analyzing the buried structures and predicting results of archeological enquiries by making use of methods related to measuring surface and subsurface contents and features from the geomorphological perspective
– Studying animals living in the pasts to understand their lives, climatic conditions, deaths, etc. by analyzing their remnants including their bones
Archaeometry includes all the scientific methods uses in archeology. Thanks to archaeometry, methods for data extraction and analysis in archeological researches have undergone dramatic changes over recent decades. Archaeometrists try to gain sound understanding about different scientific methods and make use of them at a broad scale.
Archaeometry uses machine measurement methods and analytical methods used in basic, engineering and biological sciences in order to advance archeological researches and gain some logical understanding about the past technology. It deals with issues related to manufacturing techniques, authenticity, technology, and the relationship between human settlements and the surrounding environment and their impacts on historical and cultural items from the prehistoric time to the heyday of the Islamic art.
Basic sciences are not merely comparative nor based on observations. The results are expressed with some margin of errors even if for the most precise measurements and it contributes to the precision of engineering works. As per the case of study, the analysis of the basic sciences includes multidimensional and multifaceted reviews. For this purpose, specialists from various disciplines cooperate with each other as interdisciplinary endeavors. The applied sciences used for this objective includes geology, chemistry, physics, molecular biology, bimolecular disciplines, isotopic studies, geography, mathematics, and engineering fields such as mineralogy, materials, chemistry, agriculture, wood industries, natural resources, food industries, and statistics. Some majors of the medical sciences such as pathology, anatomy, microbiology and entomology contributed to these studies, too.
Archaeometry enjoys a very important status at universities and research centers of developed and developing countries. As an interdisciplinary field of study, archaeometry has gained attention since it could lead to entrepreneurship in various research areas.
Archaeometry is comprised of an orderly systematic studies for archeological researches and advancing archeology according to questions raised or archeological observations and researches. In fact, archaeometry is as old as archeology. As of the early 19th century, scientists and philosophers did their best to offer a definition of archaeometry within the theoretical foundations of archeology. To do this, they incorporated other applied sciences, knowingly or unknowingly. According to Farcs’ definition presented in 1920, archeology is geographical studies in the past. To Lewis Binford, archeology is anthropology in the past. These records have chases archeology up to now. Accordingly, questions of archeologists are answered by making use of various disciplines in an integrated scientific endeavor both at excavation sites and labs.
Apart from the international history of archaeometry in terms of its formation and continuation which have been referred to in other references, the history of archaeometry in Iran dates back to the pre-Islamic Revolution in 1979 when western arachological delegations conducted some researches in the country. The first domestic efforts that were conducted in a more serious fashion in Iran date back to the 1980’s. These efforts led to establishment of an institution called Central Research Laboratory of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural-Historical Properties in 1990 within Organization of Cultural Heritage at that time. This laboratory changed its name to Research Center of Restoration of Cultural-Historical Properties and the Research Institute of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural-Historical Properties in 1996 and 1997 respectively.
Since its establishment, the Research Institute of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural-Historical Properties has set the ground for conducting scientific archaeometric studies for the cultural heritage of the country. The Institute was equipped with carbon-14 dating laboratory, thermoluminescent dating laboratory adjacent to the analysis and material laboratory to conduct these archaeometric studies. It is worth mentioning that two minors namely the restoration of historical artefacts and archaeometry were merged since the establishment of the Institute.
An agreement for international cooperation was concluded between the mineralogy department of Iranian Organization of Geology and German University of Mainz in 1991 whose focus was studying the history of metalworking and mining in Iran. Within two years of concluding this agreement, the Organization of Cultural Heritage joined this project which led to establishment of the Committee of Ancient Metalworking and Mining at the Research Institute of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural-Historical Properties. This agreement led to some outcomes such as organizing the international symposium on ancient mining and metalworking in Central and West Asia in 1994. This conference was organized by the Committee of Ancient Metalworking and Mining and the Archeology Center of Germany, Bochum Mining Museum, and Freiberg University of Mining and Technology. Then, some trainings on ancient mining and metalworking were organized in Kashan in 1998. Subsequently, some joint projects of ancient mining and metalworking were conducted in some historical mineral regions of Iran including Arisman, Veshnavah, and Anarak in 2000-2005.
Definitions and goals of archaeometry
Archaeometry deals with cultural-historical monuments or objects with a special emphasis on basic science and laboratory analysis as well as biological and even medical analysis which leads to some better and more precise understanding of ancient artifacts of our ancestors. One of the main goals of archaeometry is studying the emergence of crafts, both as a tradition or an industry, and technical relationship among civilizations even in remote locations. The other important goal of archaeometry is creating some appropriate space for interdisciplinary cooperation among various disciplines such as basic sciences, engineering, biology, medicine and humanities. It seems as if that archaeometry was a common language among researchers in the fields of basic sciences, engineering and humanities, as it was supposed to be the function of Esperanto.
Archaeometry has been segmented into some minors. Some of these sub-disciplines of archaeometry include geo-archaeometry, metal archaeometry, plant-archaeometry, ancient mining, paintings on potteries, bone-archaeometry, isotopic dating and studying geo-chemical models.
As most of the cultural and historical materials extracted from the archeological excavations are the products of man’s manual and mental efforts for optimization of raw materials of his time, their studies have special complexities. Analyzing the data of scientific researches is one of the necessities of any encounter with questions raised in archeological researches. These researches focus on two main issues namely identification of techniques and raw materials as well as identification of origins and ages of cultural and historical items. Main methods used in archaeometry for these researches are as follows:
– Conducting microscopic studies of thin and smooth surfaces of cultural items extracted in archeological excavations
– Reviewing results obtained from classical chemical laboratories and machine chemistry
– Investigating data gained from the industrial and extractive metallurgy
– Identifying biological characteristics of materials
– Identifying plant seeds or remnants of organic materials used by the man such as wood, bones and other materials excavated in archeological researches
– Analyzing and identifying buried structures using geophysical methods
– Thermoluminescent dating, carbon-14 dating and isotopic methods for identifying the age and authenticity of museum or unearthed artefacts
– Recognizing and identifying bone textures and organic remnants of men and living creatures
– Identifying parasites, fungi and bacteria remained in the organic textures of creatures from ancient time and analyzing them as the source of genetic and biological information reservoirs
The history of archaeometric studies in Iran varies across cases and regions and it mainly depends on the type of technology and materials used in archaeometry. Through systematic use of above-mentioned methods, archaeometric studies in Iran have mainly focused on the following areas:
– Mining and extraction of minerals as a purposeful specialty within a historical period
– Methods of processing and optimizing organic and mineral materials and their applications
– Industries and technologies as the main factor and determinant in the process of exchanging experience between civilizations
– Procedures of making use of surrounding environment, plant seeds and food, processing materials such as textiles and clothes for daily consumption and utilizing organic materials existing in the nature such as wood
– Studying stones, metals and organic materials, both as the raw material or as the metal compounds and/or ornaments which have played prominent roles in the advancement of civilizations
Archaeometry is somewhat the science of understanding the procedures of developing relationships between civilizations and their surrounding environments, transferring these experiences to other civilizations beyond temporal and spatial limits and developing understanding methods of making a technology, tradition and civilization sustainable, spanning a long time period from the ancient time to the modern age. Accordingly, one can notice that in lots of occasions, the modern technologies owe the ancient ones.