How Global Warming is Affecting the Accuracy of Radiocarbon Dating

Though archaeologists can come up with good guesses about the date of artifacts through different processes, most methods of dating are trumped by a relatively new technique called radiocarbon dating. Developed in 1949, it is considered the most useful way of determining the dates of artifacts for archaeologists.

Radiocarbon dating was discovered when chemist Willard Libby realized radioactive carbon-14 (14C) is made in the Earth’s atmosphere, and then absorbed into plants and entered into the carbon cycle. Since 14C is radioactive, it decays at a relatively quick exponential rate (Figure 1), while non-radioactive carbon (12C) does not. By measuring an artifact’s 14C to 12C ratio, chemists can determine the date of any organic material that was part of the carbon cycle (Bahn and Renfrew 2010:210).

While Libby noted that radiocarbon dating remains effective because the amount of 14C produced in the atmosphere does not vary with time, this may not always be the case.

Fossil fuel emissions have undoubtedly raised the amount of 12C in the atmosphere, with there being an upward trend in in the metric tons of Carbon in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution (Figure 2). CO2 emissions have increased by 90% since 1970 (EPA 2017), and it is therefore important to consider the effects of this new carbon in the atmosphere on radiocarbon dating, the effectiveness of which remains contingent upon the fact that the proportion of 14C in the atmosphere does not vary.

When fossil fuels are released into the atmosphere, they release 12C, and not 14C. This changes the ratio of 12C to 14C, which is what is measured to date artifacts. If the excess C12 in the atmosphere brought about by global warming enters the carbon cycle, the ratio of 12C to 14C increases greatly, making new organic material read as much older (Graven, Heather D. 2015). With an excess of 12C in the atmosphere, new organic materials will have the same 14C : 12C ratio as organic material from 1050.

If humans continue to release carbon into the atmosphere, many methods of radiocarbon dating will no longer be viable, and will not be able to provide absolute dates for artifacts up to 2,000 years old (Graven, Heather D. 2015).

Though there are other methods of dating, radiocarbon is favored, and many methods must be used in tandem to provide the most accurate dates possible (Bahn and Renfrew 2010).

Dating as we know it will change if the carbon being released into the atmosphere cannot be managed.

Figure 1. The carbon cycle and the decay of 14C. Sketch by The University of Waikato

Figure 2. Million Metric Tons of Carbon in the atmosphere vs. year. Graph by Boden, T.A., G. Marland, and R.J. Andres 2017

Works Cited:

Bahn, Paul and Colin Renfrew

2010   Archaeology Essentials. 2nd Edition Thames & Hudson Inc., New York, NY.


United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

2017  Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data. Electronic document,, accessed September 22nd, 2018


Graven, Heather D.

2015  Impact of fossil fuel emissions on atmospheric radiocarbon and various applications of radiocarbon over this century. Electronic document,, accessed September 22nd, 2018


Additional Content:


“The Future of Radiocarbon Dating”


“How Carbon-14 Dating Works”

What Trees Can Tell Us About the Past : The Importance of Dendrochronology



Dendrochronology is a scientific method that uses the annual growth rings on trees to find out the exact year the tree was formed, which helps scientists date events, environmental change, and archaeological artifacts.  A tree’s rings start from the middle, with the oldest rings at the center of the tree and new growth occurring in a layer of cells near the bark. The rate at which the tree grows changes in a predictable pattern throughout the year due to seasonal climate changes, which causes visible growth rings.  Each ring on a tree represents a full year in the life of the tree.

Not only can these rings tell us how old a tree is, but each ring can show what the climate was like during that year.  In temperate climates, a tree will grow one ring each year. In the spring, there is more moisture, so the cells of a tree expand quickly.  In the summer, however, it becomes very dry and the tree cells start to shrink. When looking at tree rings, this change is cell size is visible and results in different sized widths of rings.  The rainier the year, the wider the ring and vice versa.

Not all trees are datable, due to factors such as natural tree variation and too much water, but about 40% of trees can be dated.  Simply counting the rings on a tree sample tells us how old the tree was when it was cut down, but to find out what time period the tree is from requires a little more work.  Scientists must look at the pattern of the rings, not just how many there are to find out the time period the tree is from. All trees in the same climate or region will have rings forming the same pattern, since a rainy year or a drought will affect all trees the same way.  To know if trees are from the same climate or region scientists must simply match the tree rings. This is possible, since tree ring patterns never repeat themselves, so they are specific to a time and place.

Skeleton Plotting: the graph paper is being marked where there are narrow rings

The process of identifying a pattern is not as complicated as it would seem.  Dendrochronologists lay a strip of graph paper on a sample of tree and mark where the narrow rings are.  This process is called Skeleton Plotting, since it is only marking the seasons of drought. It is easier to identify patterns by hand rather than by computer, because humans are so good at recognizing patterns.  Dendrochronologists will repeat this process for thousands of trees from the same region or climate to create a master pattern, which is called a master chronology.

Work Cited

Labeled Tree Sample. NASA, 25 Jan. 2017,

Mason, Matthew. “Dendrochronology: What Tree Rings Tell Us About Past and Present.” EnvironmentalScience,

Skeleton Plotting. PBS, 30 Jan. 2013,

“Tree Ring Dating Dendrochronology.” PBS, 30 Jan. 2013,

Tree Sample. PBS, 30 Jan. 2013,


Additional Content


Crystal Skull Forgery

In the mid 1800’s Crystal skulls began to circulate, some even finding their way into museums – claiming to be made by pre-Columbian peoples. Although these allegedly magical artifacts raised suspicion among historians and archaeologists for almost a century, they remained in museum collections. However, in 1992 one notable example, The Smithsonian Skull, was donated anonymously to the British Museum, and this event finally moved American and British archaeologists to begin research that led to the debunking of these mysterious artifacts.

Though the Smithsonian Skull was donated anonymously, many other similar crystal skulls were traced back to the 19th century French antiquity dealer, Eugene Boban. Boban had sold the skulls to art dealers claiming they were ancient aztec artifacts, exploiting the imagination of the ignorant buyers. With this forged pre-Columbian provenance, the skulls found their way into both the British Museum and The Quai Branly Museum in Paris.

As research on these skulls commenced, the initial evidence of falsification was the fact that the Smithsonian skull had come from an undocumented site. Furthermore, as crystal can not be carbon dated, no absolute dating method had ever been used to test the authenticity of the skulls. However, archaeologists used relative dating to compare the style of real Aztec skull symbolism to the crystal skulls, and a discrepancy was found in representation of teeth. In the crystal skulls, teeth had been created in linear, symmetrical rows – unlike the more natural pattern of the Aztec designs. Archaeologists also used relative dating methods to compare surface etchings. On the surface of an authentic, Aztec, crystal goblet, etchings showed variance – signs of a handcrafted object. However, the crystal skull etchings showed the use of a rotary wheel, which was only introduced after the Spanish Conquest. The relative date Archaeologists had begun to consider of at least the late 1500’s, was then cross checked using an X-ray diffraction system. The researchers found leftover residue of silicon carbide: an abrasive material used for smoothing in stone carving workshops beginning in the 20th century. Lastly, iron-rich chlorite mineral traces that were found in the crystal of the skull suggested that the crystal material wasn’t even naturally occurring in the Yucatan region, but rather from Brazil or Madagascar.

    The story of the Smithsonian Skull highlights the importance of empiricism in archaeology. Though Babon did sell fake artifacts, he had also traded real ones – making it likely that he knew he was selling forges, but let his personal bias and motivations for profit allow him to look past this. On the other hand, British and American researchers had to look past their own possible, natural biases in order to question the authenticity of the crystal skulls – which up to this point had been ignorantly assumed to be pre-Columbian. Lastly, this series of events shows the importance of the use of multiple dating methods to cross check, and how relative dating can become crucial in artifacts that do not allow absolute dating methods.

The image above is an authentic pre-Columbian skull mask carved in stone from the 1st century AD.

The image above is the Smithsonian Skull sent to the British Museum in 1992.

Work Cited
“Ancient Costa Rica Stone Underworld Skull Deity Death Mask.” Busacca Gallery ,

Everts, Sarah. “Crystal Skulls Deemed Fake.” CEN RSS, American Chemical Society, 4 Mar. 2013,

“Is This Crystal Skull Really Ancient?”, Smithsonian Institution,

“The Smithsonian Skull .” Chemical and Engineering News ,

Additional Content

Tattoos Across Cultures

Although tattoos were originally thought to have dated back to around 2,000 B.C to ancient Egyptian times, recent archaeological discoveries have carbon-dated tattoos to be approximately 5,200 years old. Due to such discoveries, the certainty of when tattoos first originated has become rather unclear. In Egyptian times, “the distribution of the tattooed dots and small crosses on the lower spine and right knee and ankle joints correspond to areas of strain-induced degeneration, with the suggestion that they may have been applied to alleviate joint pain and were therefore essentially therapeutic” (Lineberry). Archeological studies have shown that ancient Egyptian tattooing was primarily a practice reserved for women. Tattooing was used “during the very difficult time of pregnancy and birth. This is supported by the pattern of distribution, largely around the abdomen, on top of the thighs and the breasts” (Lineberry). It is believed that older Egyptian women would pass this tradition of tattooing down to the younger counterparts. The symbolic value of the tattoo in ancient Egypt differs drastically from Samoan culture and more parallely resembles ancient Japanese culture.  

While tattoos do not date back quite as far in Samoan culture as they do in Egyptian culture, tattooing was a long standing tradition that represented an individual’s rank within the tribe. Tattoos in Samoan culture were most often associated with men; however, “women too endured tattooing, but their patterns were typically smaller” (PBS). The men’s tattoos would, “forever celebrate their endurance and dedication to cultural traditions.”(PBS). Typically, Samoan tattoos started at a man’s mid-torso and extended downwards towards their feet. The process of receiving these tattoos was both an extremely painful and dangerous one. Besides the excessively high risk of infection, the men would experience massive amounts of pain, as the tattoos would typically take up to a year to heal completely. The entire tribe would come together to help support the man who received the tattoo. The tattoos needed to be cleaned daily and the men oftentimes needed help with daily tasks, for even just sitting and walking was rather painful.

While different cultures throughout the world have used tattooing as a way to symbolize their beliefs, it is important to note that although these cultures have tattooing in common, the symbolism behind the practice of tattooing differs from culture to culture. This does that mean that there are no similarities in tattooing practices across cultures. For example, Japan and Egypt both used some tattoos as protective symbols, while Samoa and Japan used certain tattoos to denote an individual’s rank (Kearns). Japan’s tattoo practice incorporates elements of both the Samoan and the Egyptian cultures, but still maintains its own uniqueness (Kearns).

Image result for traditional samoan tattoo

Above is a picture of a traditional Samoan tattoo. One that begins mid-torso and continues downward.

The tattooed right hand of a Chiribaya mummy

Above is a corpse that has been mummified and the tattoos that are showing have been preserved over thousands of years.

Reference List

Kearns, Angel. “Inked and Exiled: A History of Tattooing in Japan.” Bodylore: Gender, Sex, Culture, Folklore, and the Body. February 28 2018. Web. <>.

Lineberry, Cate. “Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History.” January 1 2007. Web. <>.

PBS. “Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo.” PBS Thirteen. 2003. Web. <>.


Additional Content

Fossils and the Future: Taphonomy and its Influence

Since it was rediscovered over 250 years ago, Pompeii has been an intriguing and popular destination for generations across the world. For its most recent resurgence, millennials have manifested their own captivation in site through the 2013 Bastille song about the city and a popular meme currently circulating around the internet. The meme, that began after CNN posted pictures from a dig site, shows an unnamed skeleton who appears to have initially escaped the volcanic ash, only to be then killed by a falling boulder. The irony of the situation inspired many to apply it to their own lives and it became a phenomenon on social media platforms.

A recent photo of an excavation site at Pompeii, Italy, most likely a similar setting to where the unnamed man was found. Photo provided by The Special Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Pompeii, May 17, 2018.

However, in a Forbes article published in June, archaeologist Kristina Killgrove reports that through examining the skull of the skeleton, the archaeologists found that the man’s skull remained completely intact (Killgrove 2018). This helped them conclude that man had actually not been killed by the boulder, but instead, the upper part of the body had sunk during a previous excavation, causing it to appear that the boulder had been fatal. He most likely died due to asphyxiation.  Although this essentially discredits the meme, the study of the man after he was buried led the team to further understand the context of Pompeii and the fate of one of its citizens. This type of inspection–the study of how an organism is buried and the processes that affect it after burial–is called taphonomy, and it remains widely important in the fields of archaeology and paleontology to explain why we find certain fossils and why we don’t, and how that affects the greater scheme of studying the past life (Renfrew 2010:41).

An artificially fossilized lizard foot, evidence of the some of the new technology being used by archaeologists to better understand taphonomy. Photo provided by Evan Sattia, Field Museum/University of Bristol and Tom Kaye, Foundation for Scientific Advancement

Through greater advances in technology, archaeologists are investigating how to replicate the fossilizing process, in order to better examine and understand decaying, and how one organism becomes a fossil. Evan Sattia of the Field Museum in Chicago explains in a July article for Popular Science that his team is essentially “baking” samples in clay tablets at 3500 psi, which is roughly the temperature of the level of the Earth’s crust where fossils are found. By replicating the process, scientists are able to probe into what temperature, gas, and other environmental effects lead to the fossilizing process and what materials are able to survive, a breakthrough in understanding how we find fossils and why we find them.


Although it is sometimes overlooked, taphonomy is a crucial part of the entire archaeological process within a site. The fossils that are left behind, allow archaeologists to peek further into the past living and provide a greater context of the past culture and environment of an area. And as evidenced through technological advances, taphonomy will continue, and should continue, to grow and improve along with further discoveries.


Further Readings:

Curren, Thomas.

2017  Archaeology as Blood Sport: How an Ancient Mastodon Ignited Debate over Humans’ Arrival in North America. Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2017., accessed September 16, 2018.

Pickrell, John.

2018  Here’s How Humans Can Make It as a Fossil. Reader’s Digest, February 15, 2018., accessed September 16, 2018.


Reference List:

Blakemore, Erin.

  2018  To Understand Fossils, Scientists Are Baking Their Own. Popular Science, July 25, 2018., accessed September 16, 2018.


Killgrove, Kristina.

  2018  That Meme-Worthy Pompeii Skeleton? Not Crushed By A Block, His Skull Shows. Forbes, June 28, 2018., accessed September 16, 2018.


Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn.

  2010  Archaeology Essentials. 2nd edition. Thames & Hudson, New York.



Blakemore, Erin.

  2018  To Understand Fossils, Scientists Are Baking Their Own. Popular Science, July 25, 2018., accessed September 16, 2018.


McGrath, Maryellen.

2018 Extraordinary discovery of the archaeological site of Pompeii. ABC News, May 19, 2018., accessed September 16, 2018.




Trash in a Changing World: Patterns of E-Waste Dumping

Bill Rathje’s research of the American landfill painted a dark tale of the direction of our consumerist society. The immense waste of resources and lack of accountability will, according to Rathje, eventually lead to a culture collapse. Looking into today, we face more challenges despite the enormous technological progress we’ve enjoyed. Rather than improve our situation and more effectively use our resources, we face new issues in the form of electronic waste, the discard of electrical and electronic devices.

Today, much of the world’s e-waste originates from developed nations in the Western World such as the United States and Europe. The United Nations estimates that over 50 million tons of e-waste are discarded each year. And as our world’s reliance on technology grows and our current products updated, this number is sure to increase.

It is estimated that 75% of all e-waste is exported to developing countries around the world such as Ghana and Pakistan. The recycling of e-waste is often too costly in developed countries, making dumping a more economical option. Additionally, exporting out e-waste likely prevents the environmental and health dangers of recycling.

In cities where e-waste is dumped, such as Agbogbloshie, Ghana, and Karachi, Pakistan, the local communities have repurposed the e-waste into an economy based on the recycling and reuse of the dumped appliances. They are either repaired in order to be resold, or more likely, disassembled to recover raw materials such as copper, silver, gold, and steel.

Figure 1. A worker burns away wiring insulation in order to extract the copper in Agbobloshie, Ghana.

The dumping of e-waste presents enormous health and environmental concerns to the local community. In the case of Agbogbloshie and Karachi, people are continually affected by the toxins and chemicals released by the burning of e-waste. Workers, especially, are affected by the toxic chemicals as they extract the raw materials from the e-waste. Almost everyone becomes at risk from exposure to lead, cadmium, and other disruptive chemicals.

Figure 2. Various electronic components are transported to be recycled in Karachi, Pakistan.

Studying communities such as Agbogbloshie and Karachi reveals the patterns that affect e-waste dumpsites around the world. For example, even in such an environment such as Agbogbloshie and Karachi, there remains a stark divide between those who utilize the e-waste. ‘Resellers’, often able to receive old or unused electronics, are able to make profits of thousands of Euros a month. Meanwhile, the majority of e-waste workers rely on a subsistence scavenging for grams of materials at a time. Also, the exploitation of developing countries as dumping grounds hark back to previous colonial exploitation of natural resources. And finally, it is the poor that are the most affected by the dumping of e-waste.

In summation, the dump of e-waste in developing countries does not represent an adequate solution as our world becomes both more technologically advanced and consumerist. The dumping of e-waste reflects just a transference of the root problem to other groups and cultures. All in all, e-waste represents the denial and postponement of developed nations actively addressing the growing environmental and health dangers of our trash.

Works Cited:

Blau, John
2006  UN summit on e-waste. CIO UK. CIO UK, 28 November 2006.
Accessed September 16, 2018.

Kuper, Jo
2008   Poisoning the poor: Electronic waste in Ghana. Greenpeace. Greenpeace, August 2008.<>. Accessed September 16, 2018.

2016  ToxiCity: life at Agbobloshie, the world’s largest e-waste dump in Ghana. YouTube. Youtube, 01 June 2016. <>.
accessed September 16, 2018.

2016  The Toxic E-Waste Trade Killing Pakistan’s Poorest. YouTube. YouTube, 11 July 2016. <>. accessed September 16, 2018.


The process of mummification occurs both naturally and unnaturally, and it has been carried out by various cultures throughout history. Some climates allow for the natural mummification and impressive preservation of the dead due to the extremely hot and dry climate or extremely cold climate.

Some historic cultures, however, have purposefully mummified their dead. There is evidence that the Chinchorro society of South America mummified their dead as early as 7,000 years ago (PRI 2012). Mummies from the time of the Inca have also been discovered – remains of a cultural practice of human sacrifice (NYTimes 1999). There have even been mummies from prehistoric Britons that have been discovered dating back to 1500 BCE (Keys 2003).

Certainly the most well known of the historic mummies are those of ancient Egypt. The mummies of elite ancient Egyptians, boasting impressive tombs, some of which the well known pyramids, underwent the expensive process of mummification following their death as preparation for burial (Smithsonian). We know a fair amount about the mummification process carried out by these people, and in addition we understand why they did it. This preservation of the dead made sure that they would be able to live

The pyramids of ancient Egypt are the most well known form of a tomb that would have housed a mummy.

out a full life in another world. As Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo puts it, “they were obsessed with life! (…) Most Egyptians died by the time they were 40. So they wanted to have a better afterlife. What you see in the tombs is a really careful preparation for eternity” (NOVA 2006).

Believe it or not, a sort of mummification, in a shockingly similar fashion to that of the Egyptians, exists within the United States today. This is the result of a process called cryonics. This process involves taking a recently deceased body, lowering its temperature to -196 degrees celcius, and replacing its blood with antifreeze to preserve organ function (Cryonics Institute 2018). Like the mummification of Ancient Egypt, this industry is expensive, costing up to $200,000 per body. The question remains: why? Quite similarly to the ancient Egyptians, some people are simply not ready to part with the idea of a prolonged life. While it sounds like something out of

This image is from the facility of one company that specializes in the preservation of bodies through cryonics. These cylinders each are meant to house a preserved body.

science fiction, the cryo freezing industry is based on the belief that at some point in the future there will be technology advanced enough to revive a deceased, frozen body, and these people are willing to spend their money on that chance (Cryonics Institute). One Arizona based company currently has “147 brains and bodies, all frozen in liquid nitrogen with the goal of being revived one day” (Guzman 2016). Some companies are even working with countries to try to get the legal rights to begin the freezing process before death in order to increase the health of the body prior to freezing (Weston 2017). While we have a new name for it, this mummification-esque process draws on a desire that we share with other humans of the past to experience a greater life.

Additional Content for more information:

For a straightforward piece by the Smithsonian with more information about the ancient Egyptian mummification process, click Here!

For a youtube video which is the official advertisement video displayed on the website of one of the leading Cryo freezing companies which provides their information on the process of Cryo freezing, click Here!

Reference List:

Guzman, Zack. 2016 NBC news. Electronic document, , accessed September 15, 2018.

Keys, D.  2003   Europe’s First Mummies. Archaeology, 56(5), 16-17. Retrieved from , accessed September  15, 2018

NOVA. 2006  PBS. Electronic Document, , accessed September 16, 2018.

Smithsonian. Electronic document, , accessed September 16, 2018.

Weston, Phoebe. 2017 Dailymail. Electronic document, , accessed September 15, 2018.

Wilford, John Noble. 1999   New York Times. Electronic Document, , accessed September 15, 2018

2018 Cryonics Institute. Electronic documents, , accessed September 16, 2018

2012   PRI’s The World. Electronic Document, , accessed September 16, 2018.

Image sources:

Pyramids image: 2018 Daily Times. Electronic Document. , accessed September 16, 2018

Cryonics image: Ahmed, Syed Sujeel. 2017 About Islam. Electronic Document. 2018 Daily Times. Electronic Document. , accessed September 16, 2018 , accessed September 16, 2018.

Conservation of Marine Encrustations: What Composites of Marine Sediments Can Tell Us About Shipwrecks, Artifacts, and Oceanic Environments

Shipwrecks have been heralded as time capsules in the ocean due to the complete nature of the artifacts they contain at the time that they sink, but shipwrecks and encrustations can be examined at a level even beyond the artifacts themselves. Ships, when they set sail, contain everything the passengers believe is essential to life for an extended amount of time. With this in mind, shipwrecks can provide insight into historical cultural materiality and, because the passengers and the crew on board will come from different classes, social hierarchies.

When artifacts that sank aboard a shipwreck are left in salt water for extended amounts of time, especially in warmer ocean temperatures, they often become covered with what is termed encrustation: a thick conglomeration of “calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide, metal corrosion products, sand, clay, and various forms of marine life such as shells, coral, barnacles, and plant life” (Hamilton 1997). While it may seem as though this encrustation is preventing the examination and analysis of the artifact within, the sediments themselves often contain a treasure trove of archaeological information. In fact, encrustations can indefinitely preserve impressions of objects that have dissolved which can be used as molds to recreate the objects (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. A drawing made of an encrustation of a partisan found at the site of the Belle in Matagorda Bay, Texas. Not only was it possible to determine the original composite materials, but a cast of the blade was created using the impression left in the encrustation (Conservation Research Laboratory Texas A&M University; Composite Wood)

While it may seem as though encrustations destroy archaeological evidence, what they may dissolve is often made up for by the wide variety of information they provide. In addition to creating imprints that can be recreated, the encrustations preserve objects that would otherwise be destroyed in oceanic environments such as potsherds, fragments of cloth, and seeds and insects. Furthermore, each encrustation alone can contain an abundance of individual artifacts and ecofacts. In the case of the encrustation found aboard the San Esteban off of Padre Island, Texas (Figure 2) the encrustations of large iron objects like anchors each contained hundreds of smaller artifacts and ecofacts like bolts, coins, plants, and shell debris.

Figure 2. Various stages of extraction of the artifacts in an enunciation from the San Esteban, beginning with an x-ray to locate the objects within the conglomerate (Arnold 1980).

Another unique advantage of encrustations is that they hold a timeline of archaeological information. In a similar manner to geological stratification, exterior layers of encrustations will have formed more recently than interior layers. The ecofacts that inevitably become a part of the conglomerations can provide insight into ocean ecology based on the conditions in which living organisms can survive. With encrustations providing a geological timescale, not only can the information be used to date artifacts within the concretions but there is also the potential to learn about changes in ocean ecology over time and use trends in that data to predict future ecological conditions.

Reference List:

Arnold, J. Barto.

  1980  Shipwrecks in the Wake of Columbus. Electronic document,, accessed September 14, 2018.

Conservation Research Laboratory Texas A&M University

  Overview of Conservation in Archaeology; Basic Archaeological Conservation Procedures. Electronic document,, accessed September 14, 2018.

Conservation Research Laboratory Texas A&M University

  Composite Wood / Iron Objects: Pole Arms and Partisans; La Salle Shipwreck Project Texas Historical Commission. Electronic document,, accessed September 14, 2018.

Hamilton, Donny L.

  1997  Basic Methods of Conserving Underwater Archaeological Material Culture. Electronic document,, accessed September 14, 2018.

Johnston, Grahame.

  2018  Conservators of Underwater Archaeology. Electronic document,, accessed September 14, 2018.

Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn

  2010  Archaeology Essentials. 2nd edition. Thames & Hudson, New York.

U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment

  1987  Technologies for Survey, Identification, Navigation, Excavation, Documentation, Restoration, and Conservation. In Technologies for Underwater Archaeology and Maritime Preservation. Electronic document,, accessed September 14, 2018.

Additional Content for Interested Readers:

Arnold, J. Barto and Melinda Arceneaux Wickman

  1980  PADRE ISLAND SPANISH SHIPWRECKS OF 1554. Electronic document,, accessed September 14, 2018.

Adovasio, J. M. and C. Andrew Hemmings

  2013  Underwater Archaeological Excavation Techniques. Electronic document,, accessed September 14, 2018.

Roman-Era Trash: An Excavation in South Devon, England

The small town of Ipplepen is located in the southwest corner of England, in South Devon.  As of 2011, Ipplepen is a small town with fewer than 3000 residents. Although it has such a small population, the area has a very long history, with settlements stretching back to the Iron Age.  Since 2010, archaeologists from the University of Exeter and the British Museum have been excavating the sites, which in total span 1200 years of history.

Recently, a team has excavated several locations containing garbage from the end of the Roman era.  Analysis of the recovered artifacts has allowed researchers to piece together elements of the residents’ lives, such as their diet.  In the garbage piles, animal bones have been preserved for thousands of years. According to the lead archaeologist on the team, Stephen Rippon, these animal can be used “to reconstruct past patterns of farming…Some of the bones that have been found have cut marks from when they were butchered.”  The age of the animals when they were butchered gives information about local farming practices. For example, lambs would have been killed for meat, whereas older sheep would have been kept around for milk and wool.  Through reconstructing the diets and farming practices of Roman-Age South Devon residents, researchers are able to better understand the area’s history.

Archaeologists excavating at Ipplepen in 2016.

The garbage has also provided clues into the financial status of the town.  Among the artifacts recovered are some pieces of ancient pottery. Some of it is amphora, a type of pottery used to carry olive oil and wine made in the Mediterranean.  Elsewhere at the site, a piece of an expensive cup was discovered. The style of the cup suggests that it was originally made in southeast England, and likely would have been someone’s valuable possession (until it broke).  Residents were not, then, just poor farmers, as one might be inclined to think. Instead, these artifacts suggest that at least some of the residents were well-off, since they could afford Mediterranean wine and expensive pottery.

Some examples of amphora vases, used to hold wine and olive oil.

Throughout the Ipplepen excavation, researches have made a number interesting discoveries about the history of South Devon.  Among those are a Roman road that once ran through the area, a graveyard from medieval times, and roundhouses from the end of the Iron Age.  But trash tells a different, less obvious story than these structures do; it tells us about the day-to-day things that people did that they didn’t view as remarkable, such as eating meat and drinking wine.  However, to an archaeologist, these discoveries provide valuable information about the living habits and status of a people or a settlement, such as in South Devon.


2017  “Rare Archeological Find Could Be the First Time Unique Pottery Seen in the Southwest.” Archaeology & Fossils, Electronic Document, June 28, 2017,, accessed 13 September 2018.

University of Exeter

 2018  “Ancient Household Waste Gives More Clues About Devon’s Roman History.” Research News, University of Exeter. Electronic Document, September 5, 2018,, accessed 12 September 2018.


 2018  “Ipplepen.” Wikipedia. Electronic Document, September 8, 2018,, accessed 12 September, 2018

Image Sources:

Ipplepen Archaeological Project.

 2016  “2016 Excavation Day 2.” Ipplepen Archaeological Project (blog), June 8, 2016,, accessed September 15, 2018.


 2018  “Amphora.” Wikipedia,, accessed September 15, 2018.

Further reading:

“Digging Up the Roots of Modern Waste in Victorian-Era Rubbish”:

“Trash or Treasure?”: