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The Future of Archaeology

About the latest Innovations in the Field

This year, archaeology at Leiden University as well as in the Netherlands turns 200! Archaeology has always been at the forefront of technological innovation. So instead of only looking back, in this jubilee year Archaeology and Studium Generale focus on the future: from the use of isotope studies to 3D technologies bringing ancient sites to life.

The pilot project Scanning for Syria brought back to life clay tablets lost in Raqqa in the fog of the Syrian war. This resurrection was possible thanks to silicone rubber casts made by the Dutch archaeologists who excavated the tablets, to allow detailed study back in the Netherlands. As the moulds degrade over time, safeguarding of the cuneiform texts, recording the anxieties of Assyrian administrators in the 12th century BC was urgent. With an X-ray micro-CT scanner, even the tiniest wedges imprinted in the concavities of the moulds could be captured so that digital replicas as readable as the authentic tablets could be produced. Then, the digital models were subjected to automatic character decipherment and separation at Heidelberg University to ease the laborious translation work of assyriologists. Colorful 3D printed replicas were also made that one can hold in his hand to better appreciate the concise written communication style adopted by the Assyrians long before our text messages! Using modern digitizing technology a tablet was even transformed into a chocolate delicacy sold for the benefit of refugee students in the Netherlands.

Dr Ir Dominique Ngan-Tillard, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, TU Delft and dr Olivier Nieuwenhuijse, guest staff member in Near Eastern archaeology, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden university

Time and Venue

7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Room 019

Lipsius Building
Cleveringaplaats 1

Leiden

Fire is ubiquitous in our modern lives: from producing electricity, to cooking our food, to powering our cars. Yet, many of us today rarely come into direct contact with fire on a daily basis. This is in stark contrast to the near-constant presence of fire among modern hunter-gatherers and our earlier hominin forbearers, again emphasising the paramount importance of this resource. Determining when exactly fire first entered the human technological repertoire has proven difficult to pin down and is outside the purview of this talk. Instead, Sorensen will focus on the later stages of fire use when hominins were regularly utilizing and producing fire, specifically zooming in on Neandertal fire use during the Last Glacial period (ca. 115,000–40,000 years ago) and on how this practice has manifested in the late-Middle Palaeolithic archaeological record.
This talk first delves into the complexities associated with the production and preservation of various fire evidences and how different environmental and/or cultural conditions—including the possession of fire making technology—can either enhance or mute archaeological fire signals. After that Sorensen presents the first direct artefactual evidence of regular fire making by Neandertals.

Andrew Sorensen MA, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University

Time and Venue

7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Room 019
Lipsius Building
Cleveringaplaats 1
Leiden

From the early 20th century onwards, researchers have been studying archaeological skeletal remains to learn about diseases that plagued past societies. In the last decades, this type of research, termed palaeopathology, has focused on the macroscopic analysis of the bones and the identification of pathological lesions within the skeleton. While this is still an important facet of current osteological research, recently more and more biomolecular techniques are employed to study past disease. In this presentation, we will feature two of those new types of analysis. One case study will focus on the investigation stress levels through the analysis of cortisol in archaeological hair and the other one will discuss how past malaria can be studied in archaeological human bones.

Dr Rachel Schats and dr Sarah Schrader, both are Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University

Time and Venue

7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Room 019
Lipsius Building
Cleveringaplaats 1
Leiden

Prehistoric funerary monuments are one of the most visible and well known relics in the Netherlands. Until recently we were under the impression that we had documented most of these monuments. New advances in Data Science however are generating hundreds, if not thousands of newly discovered sites. What we thought we knew about these monuments must be seen as only the tip of the iceberg. For example, similar techniques that Google and Facebook use to automatically detect faces on pictures, are now being used to mine vast remote sensing datasets such as satellite images. Using this technique in a 6-month pilot-study on the Veluwe has already doubled the number of known sites – from a few hundred to close to two thousand. These techniques are revolutionizing archaeology, yet they also create new challenges. Who is going to study these thousands of new sites? In the pilot-study we have started to create a network of volunteers who help and assist us in documenting these newly discovered sites. In doing so they help us better understand these relics of the past, but they also help to generate awareness to the existence of these relics in our own backyard.

Dr Quentin Bourgeois, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University

Time and Venue

7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Room 019
Lipsius Building
Cleveringaplaats 1
Leiden

One of the most widely used methods in archaeology to study ancient migrations, strontium (Sr) isotope analysis, has been applied to a vast array of different studies across the globe. These studies have demonstrated that migrations were frequent, dynamic and highly variable within and between different populations throughout history. One major criticism of these approaches as applied to migration research, however, is that most studies often do not advance beyond simply distinguishing between locals and immigrants (nonlocals) but are unable to identify the origins of immigrants. The ability to use isotope signatures obtained from human skeletal remains to identify geographic origins is hampered by the fact that different potential source areas can possess similar isotopic ranges. Two approaches offer great potential for overcoming this limitation: 1) the use of multiple isotope proxies, and 2) the use of isoscapes (models or maps of spatial isotopic variation). Isoscapes have yet to be extensively utilized for migration or provenance studies in archaeological primarily because no accurate regional-scale strontium isoscape had been generated for the appropriate sample material. The effectiveness of combining multiple isotope data with isoscapes to identify the geographic origins of ancient immigrants will be discussed and demonstrated by recent research from the Caribbean region.

Dr Jason Laffoon, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University

Time and Venue

7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Room 019
Lipsius Building
Cleveringaplaats 1
Leiden

The dietary behavior of our ancient ancestors and relatives has profound influence on our own health and lifestyle. While hunting and meat-eating are often emphasized as drivers of social structure, pair-bonding, brain growth and other key human traits, the importance of plant foods in human evolution is often overlooked. Plants provide critical nutrients and comprise the majority of calories in some modern forager groups. The acquisition and processing of plant foods can also structure human behavior and evolutionary trajectories. Part of our ignorance of the role plant foods is due to taphonomic factors; plants are poorly preserved in the archaeological record. Recent methods emphasizing the consumption and processing of plants, combined with our existing understanding of animal food use, provides a more holistic picture of the evolution of our dietary niche.

Dr Amanda Henry, Associate Professor, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University

Time and Venue

7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Room 019
Lipsius Building
Cleveringaplaats 1
Leiden

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