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Leuven 2012


The 39th ISA, which coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the Symposium, took place on 28 May – 1 June 2012 in the beautiful medieval city of Leuven, a university town and in the same time the beer capital of Belgium! The Symposium was organised by Professor Patrick Degryse and colleagues of the Catholic University of Leuven with the support of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Centre for Archaeological Sciences. It was one of the biggest symposia attended by approximately 400 participants of which 150 were students. The oral presentation were given in the comfortable “Max Weber” auditorium at Parkstraat 71 and the poster presentations in a room located in the nearby university restaurant where also the coffees and lunches were served giving thus the opportunity for a continuous examination, reading and discussion of all the papers presented in poster form. The participants stayed in various hotels in the city, all within walking distance from the conference facilities. The Symposium dinner took place at the wonderful Faculty Club at Groot Begijnhof 14. On Wednesday afternoon participants took a range of excursions including a visit to Préhistosite de Ramioul , 20 Km from Liege. A unique event in this Symposium was the special reception held at the Province House Vlaams-Brabant, for the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of ISA, with the presence and participation of Martin J. Aitken, the founder and first Chairman of ISA. A further novel feature in Leuven was the introduction of three Keynote papers by invited speakers on special topics, which highlighted the meeting.

Professor P. Degryse, with the help of his organising committee did a great job in putting up a very efficient and successful Archaeometry Symposium which can be pronounced Golden both because of the wonderful organization and the golden jubilee celebration. The participants and the Standing Committee of ISA are very grateful.

The papers presented at this Symposium reached the grand number of 300, approximately 75 in oral form and 225 in poster form, and on the whole were quite absorbing and stimulating. A remarkable feature was the innovative research presented by several papers on new techniques and methodologies or new constructions of databases. A lot of applications of established techniques were also presented but it was astonishing to observe that in most cases, a very thoughtful new combination of techniques was chosen in order to extract the maximum cultural information from a specific group of archaeological materials. The latter was particularly noticed in the poster presentations and all the above together bring very good news for the future of Archaeometry.

The diversity of topics, materials, geographical regions and periods covered were as remarkable as ever. In the five full days of the Symposium the participants gained a great deal of new knowledge about new techniques, methods and applications, on a great variety of cultural materials. Taking the sessions one by one the research presented in Leuven can be briefly summarized as follows:

The Stone, Plaster, and Pigments session

The papers in this session presented on the whole systematic examinations and analyses of materials using a combination of techniques for a proper characterisation of materials and objects. The emphasis was on obsidian provenance, plaster characterisation, and quite a lot on pigments. The increased role of isotopes in the characterization and analysis of materials was quite obvious among the papers presented. Also, the extended use of portable XRF equipment for obtaining a large amount of data non-destructively in a short period of time was quite evident. However, the weaknesses were pointed out and very thorough comparisons were made with other techniques, setting the limits of the non-destructive XRF analysis and making everyone aware when and how the non-destructive technique can be used and when one needs to take a sample.

The Archaeochronometry session and the “Radiocarbon and Historical dating” sub-session

An interesting feature in Leuven was the comeback of Radiocarbon in this Symposium with the presentation of several papers after many years. Clever combinations of radiocarbon and historical dates were presented in order to obtain very precise dates of unknown past events. Equally important was the combination of radiocarbon and diet habits which was presented in several papers. A new advanced and systematic application of Archaeomagnetic dating was applied on fired clay structures and the use of the problematic amicoacid dating but in a new controlled way was presented. Finally, a very innovative and potentially useful dating method based on the rehydroxylation of pottery impressed a lot of participants.

The Metals and Metallurgical ceramics session

This session proved exceptionally interesting. General global questions were tackled about the emergence of tin bronzes and the differences between intentional and non-intentional ores mixing and alloying. The arsenical copper was also the focus of some studies. Various metallurgical techniques were studied and slag analyses were presented. The portable XRF for metal analysis was evaluated again and its limitations denoted by comparison with techniques like SEM-WDS analysis on sample cross-sections. Other presentations involved the interesting phenomenon of the appearance wide spread adoption all across Eurasia, reconstruction of techniques with experimental archaeology, iron smelting, neutron imaging for quantitative 3D mapping of blades and so on.

The Biomaterials and Bioarchaeology session

Presentations on new approaches to past diet reconstructions using stable isotopes were as interesting as ever. Important presentations were on: The question of dairying in Neolithic times, the combined analysis of collagen and carbonates from bones, the organic residue analysis and the combination of diet and radiocarbon. Also, emphasis was given in the investigations of the relation between human diet and mobility using either carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen isotopes or strontium and trace element analysis. New techniques were presented, like direct analysis in real time mass spectroscopy, for a rapid characterisation of organic residues in ceramics.

The Ceramics, Glazes, Glass and Vitreous Materials session

Attempts to use Sr isotopes for the provenance studies of ceramics seemed promising but not without difficulties. The petrographic analysis remains a powerful tool to study the geographic distribution but the combination of fracture testing, radiography, chemistry, SEM, XRD seems ideal for a full understanding of the volumes, shapes, mass production over time and usage of amphora.

The studies on pigments, glazes and glosses on pottery dominated as always. The location of blue cobalt sources in China for making porcelain appears as a challenge. Sr isotopes evolve again as an interesting diagnostic tool for the location of alkali sources used for making faience, and the discovery of new blue cobalt sources in Near East attracted a lot of interest. Furthermore, the Sr and Nd isotope concentrations and ratios seem to provide a tool together with the building up of databases with beach sands in the Mediterranean for the provenance of the Roman glass.

In addition, the mixing of glasses in the 9 th to 15 th century AD in Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Egypt was studied by electron microprobe and radiogenic isotopes, glasses from Beirut, Syria and Raquad seem to differ. In Tunisia and Carthage, the roman controlled territories seem to have glasses with a homogenous distribution. Finally, Byzantine glass bracelets in Romania were studied as well as guided and enamelled glass objects of Swabian and Mamluk cultures.

The Remote Sensing, Geophysical Prospection and Field Archaeology session

A small but powerful session dealing with applications on: identifying primary metallurgy, and new and interesting uses of photogrammetry and multi-channel geomagnetic systems for topographic mapping and detection of buried antiquities.

The Human – Environment Interaction session

This was also a relatively small session but with a lot of interesting presentations on: Paleoclimatic reconstructions in north Africa during the late Pleistocene and Holocene, the human impact on soil formation, landscape changes in Turkey, and the use of sulphur (? 34S) distribution close and far away from the sea as a tool for investigating paleodiet.

The Colour and Culture Special theme session

This was a special theme session for Leuven selected by the local organisers. Very interesting papers were presented: the rediscovery of the technology of the red colours in European glass, the importance of colours in ancient Egypt (blue is good, red is bad), and the recipes by alchemists for making pigments and comparing pigments and subjects seemed very unusual and interesting. Furthermore, characterisation of cave paintings of 47,000 years old and more recent pigments of the 19 th century were presented.

The keynote lectures

M.J. Aitken student poster awards

The students played and play always an important role in the advancement of the field of Archaeometry. This was especially pronounced in this meeting with the presence of 120 research students. For this reason the Symposium has established a system of awards for the two best student posters in every meeting. For their contribution to research and the best presentation of their work this meeting’s awards have gone to:

John Hopkins , Department of Chemistry, Eastern Michigan University, USA
Potential of direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry for rapid characterisation of organic residues in ceramics by J. Hopkins and R.A. Armitage

Erika K. Nitsch , Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, UK
A second harvest? The potential for meta-analysis of stable isotope data to examine large scale climatic, environmental and paleodietary trends by E. Nitsch

(It should be noted that E. Nitsch had won a M.J. Aitken award also in the 38 th ISA in Tampa)

The committee had to evaluate more than 100 posters of students who submitted their work for the awards. The participation of so many students is the most promising event and guarantees the future of ISA. However, it was a very hard job to evaluate these posters and a difficult choice to select the two “best”, as there were many nice student posters. The committee who undertook this demanding task composed of Luis Barba, Katalin Biro, Ron Hancock, Ivelin Kuleff, Yannis Maniatis and Rob Tykot.

We wish the students who received the awards good progress with their studies and a successful career in Archaeometry.

R.E. Taylor student poster awards

The Society of Archeological Sciences offers also student poster awards, named after Professor R. Ervin Taylor of the University of California at Riverside for

his outstanding contributions in the development and application of radiocarbon dating in archaeological research and dedication to the founding of the Society for Archaeological Sciences. This meeting’s award of SAS has gone to:

Fabienne M. Eder, Vienna University of Technology, Austria,

Chemical fingerprinting of Hungarian and Slovakian obsidian using three complementary analytical techniques

The next venue

There were two proposals submitted for organising the next venue of ISA 2014 which according to our tradition will be on the other side of the Atlantic.

After an initial screening of the proposals by the Standing Committee the two proposals, being both very good, were put into voting by the participants at Leuven.

A number of 130 participants voted and the results were:

Los Angeles: 75 votes

Philadelphia: 53 votes

The result was close between the two venues, however clearly in favour of LA. Therefore the next venue will be held at Los Angeles in two venues, at the GCI and the UCLA, in May 26-30, 2014.

See you all there!!

Y. Maniatis
Chairman of the S.C.


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