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We recently presented at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting in the session "Organic Residue Analysis in Archaeology" on Friday November 16, 2012:

Organic Residue Analysis in Archaeology (Session A63)

Theme: A discussion of techniques, methods, promises and pitfalls in using organic residue analysis to address archaeological questions.

Laura Mazow, Susanne Grieve, and Anthony Kennedy (East Carolina University), Presiding

Introduction (5 min.)

Michael Gregg and Greg Slater (McMaster University), "Isotopic evidence for the early use of ceramics in cooking meats and processing milk from sheep and goats at Hotu and Belt Caves, northern Iran" (20 min)

Discussion (5 min.)

Hadi Ozbal and Ayla Turkekul-Biyik (Bogazici University), Laurens Thissen (Thissen Archaeological Ceramics Bureau), Turhan Dogan (Earth and Marine Science Institute, TUBITAK, Marmara Research Center), Fokke Gerritsen (Netherlands Institute in Turkey) and Rana Ozbal (Koc University), "Linking Milk Processing to Pottery Function in Prehistoric Anatolia: Diachronic and Regional Perspectives" (20 min)

Discussion (5 min.)

Zuzana Chovanec (University at Albany), "Examining Products of Prestige in Bronze Age Cyprus: Preliminary Results and Anthropological Implications of Residue Analysis Research" (20 min)

Discussion (5 min.)

Laura Mazow, Susanne Grieve, Anthony Kennedy and D. Kyle McCandless (East Carolina University), "Analysis of Organic Residues from Ancient Bathtubs as a Tool to Determine Function" (20 min)

Discussion (5 min.)

 

Abstracts for Session Presenters:

Michael Gregg and Greg Slater (McMaster University), "Isotopic evidence for the early use of ceramics in cooking meats and processing milk from sheep and goats at Hotu and Belt Caves, northern Iran"

This paper presents molecular and isotopic evidence for prehistoric subsistence practices associated with the earliest use of clay and manufacturing of pottery vessels in a narrow geographic corridor linking the Middle East with Central Asia. Through use of our recently-developed protocol for frecovery of organic residues from archaeological pottery, saturated fatty acids with ratios consistent with degraded animal fats were obtained from fired-clay and pottery fragments from Hotu and Belt Caves in northern Iran. These rock shelters, were excavated by University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Carleton Coon in the fall of 1949 and the spring of 1951. The mid-Mesolithic to late Neolithic period human occupations from which these materials were recovered date between 13250 and 4850 cal BC.

Compound-specific isotopic analyses (13C/12C) of major fatty acids surviving in fired-clay and pottery fragments revealed ratios of ∂13C values consistent with those of modern ruminant milk fats and carcass fats of sheep, goats and pigs. These results demonstrate that clay was used in cooking meats during the late Pleistocene and pottery vessels were used in processing milk from sheep and goats at the onset of the Holocene — the earliest direct evidence of these two subsistence practices reported in this region to date. These findings raise many questions concerning core and peripheral areas of independent economic innovation in western Eurasia, and draw attention to the compelling need for additional research into the role of ceramic technologies as a catalyst for a sedentary way of life in Central Asia following the last Ice Age.


Hadi Ozbal and Ayla Turkekul-Biyik (Bogazici University), Laurens Thissen (Thissen Archaeological Ceramics Bureau), Turhan Dogan (Earth and Marine Science Institute, TUBITAK, Marmara Research Center), Fokke Gerritsen (Netherlands Institute in Turkey) and Rana Ozbal (Koc University), "Linking Milk Processing to Pottery Function in Prehistoric Anatolia: Diachronic and Regional Perspectives"

The organic residues in prehistoric Anatolian pottery primarily from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods have been previously studied by Richard Evershed and colleagues (Evershed et al. 2008). Results of this ground-breaking work provided clear evidence for dairying from 7th millennium BC sites in northwestern Anatolia. Building on this pioneering work, we strive to take the results to the level of pottery assemblages themselves, which has not yet been done for the region concerned. Correlation of milk processing and its products with specific vessel categories could provide the first reliable step towards assessing pottery functions in prehistoric assemblages.

Approximately 20 % of nearly 300 analyzed potsherds, mostly from the Neolithic site of Barcın Höyük contained significant amounts of lipid residues. HTGC analysis yielded an abundant distribution of saturated free fatty acids indicating the presence of degraded fats as well as minor amounts of di- and intact triacylglycerols. The GC-C-IRMS results of Barcın potsherds indicate that the majority of detected lipids originated from dairying fats although some do originate from ruminant adipose fats.

The thin walled, mineral tempered ceramics from Neolithic Barcın are very suitable to sustain and regulate heat while cooking, and the processing of milk into curds, butter or yoghurt may well have been of crucial importance. The first results of our project already indicate that it is foremost S-shaped globular cooking pots with vertically pierced knob handles placed on the belly diameters that give evidence of milk residues. Interestingly, small drinking cups have yielded unequivocal traces of milk residue.

 

Zuzana Chovanec (University at Albany), "Examining Products of Prestige in Bronze Age Cyprus: Preliminary Results and Anthropological Implications of Residue Analysis Research"

The integral role that prestigious products have played in the formation and transformation of ancient societies has long been acknowledged. Products of prestige encompass a wide range of organic products, such as psychoactive substances, medicines, perfumes and ointments. They were held in high esteem, had ritual or medicinal significance and would have conferred prestige on their owners and users. Despite their intrinsic value and their significance in the functioning of social, economic and political systems, comparatively little attention has been given to the identity of these products. It is argued that the identity of the products that were prepared, consumed, discarded or displayed is essential to understanding the significance of the social contexts of their use. In an effort to identify prestigious products utilized in Cyprus, a residue analysis project was conducted that focused on the identification of alkaloids and essential oils in high quality vessels from stratified sites that span the Bronze Age. Preliminary results will be reviewed and the range of prestigious products and their social implications will be discussed.


Laura Mazow, Susanne Grieve, Anthony Kennedy and D. Kyle McCandless (East Carolina University), "Analysis of Organic Residues from Ancient Bathtubs as a Tool to Determine Function"

Organic residue analysis has been increasingly used as a tool to answer archaeological questions about diet and cuisine, but also more recently cult and crafts manufacture, that is to say, activities that may have left behind traces of organic residue. In this study Bronze and Iron Age "bathtubs" in Cyprus and Israel were analyzed for organic residues using both contextual and analytical techniques. Typically "bathtubs" have been interpreted as either bathing or internment vessels, and their presence at sites in the southern Levant is seen as a reflection of immigration and/or cultural transmission via elite emulation. In the present study, our working hypothesis is that these "bathtubs" were used for crafts activities, primarily wool processing, and that preserved organic residues would contain lanolin or its degradation products. This project seeks to test this hypothesis by using organic residue analysis to identify a signature of wool fulling and comparing this signature with residue samples collected in the summers of 2010 and 2011. FT-IR and GC-MS data will be presented.