Neutron Activation Analysis

Integral to Project ArAGATS’s ongoing investigations is a chemical characterization study of ancient materials, including obsidian and ceramics. ┬áThese investigations are shedding new light on material flows amongst communities of the Tsaghkahovit Plain during the Bronze and Iron Ages.

Chemical characterization studies of pottery have become increasingly common in addressing how political economies were organized in early complex societies and can therefore lend insight to the negotiation of group identity and social power.

Neutron activation analysis (NAA) is a particularly efficient sourcing technique that provides a high-precision determination of concentrations of major, minor, and trace elements in a variety of geological materials, including clay, chert, and obsidian, all of which are common raw materials used to make archaeological artifacts. In the reconstruction of ceramic distribution patterns, NAA aids in tracing artifacts (e.g., ceramics) back to their original raw material sources through the identification of shared chemical signatures, thereby illuminating patterns of circulation, production, and consumption. In Armenia, sourcing techniques that rely on chemical characterization are of particular value since there are currently no macro-level morphological or decorative elements among Lchashen-Metsamor horizon ceramics that can be used to trace LBA pots back to a territory of origin.

In provenience studies, petrographic analysis adds a complementary line of evidence to the NAA data. Rooted in the geological sciences, ceramic petrography entails the examination of thin-sections of pot sherds to characterize the mineralogy of tempers and other inclusions. The minerals identified within a ceramic body can be useful for associating the vessel clay or inclusions with a particular geological region, or in ruling out geological regions that differ remarkably from the sherd’s mineralogical composition. While the homogeneity of surface geology (and similarities in ceramic production techniques) over large regions limits the precision of petrography in provenience studies, the complex geology of the Lesser Caucasus makes it a particularly suitable place to employ petrology as a sourcing tool. Petrographic analysis on the project is facilitated through experts at the Institute of Geology, National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia.