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Is there something missing in scientific provenance studies of prehistoric artefacts?

  • A. Mark Pollard (a1), Peter J. Bray (a1) and Chris Gosden (a2)

Determination of the provenance of material culture by means of chemical analysis has a long and distinguished history in archaeology. The chemical analysis of archaeological objects started in the intellectual ferment of late-eighteenth-century Europe (Caley 1948, 1949, 1967; Pollard 2013), almost as soon as systematic (gravimetric) means of chemical analysis had been devised (Pollard in prep.). Many of the leading scientists of the day, such as Vauquelin, Klaproth, Davy, Faraday and Berzelius, carried out analyses of archaeological objects as part of their interests in the contents of the ‘cabinets of curiosities’ of the day (Pollard&Heron 2008). The subject moved frommere curiosity to systematic and problemorientated study with the work of G¨obel (1842),Wocel (1854), Damour (1865) and Helm (1886), who essentially formulated the idea of ‘provenance studies’—that some chemical characteristic of the geological rawmaterial(s) provides a ‘fingerprint’ which can bemeasured in the finished object, and that if an object from a remote source is identified at a particular place, then it is evidence of some sort of direct or indirect contact and ‘trade’ between the two places.

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