Thursday, June 25, 2009

The artifacts of life

USC News (Carl Marziali)

USC’s first pilgrims to a temple of high-energy physics will be seeking answers to worldly questions about ancient commerce.

Archaeologist Lynn Swartz Dodd of USC College and her students are taking trade artifacts from Egypt to the Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, home of the most powerful X-rays in the country.

The group may be the first from USC to secure precious “beam time” at the celebrated particle accelerator, according to Gene Bickers, vice provost for undergraduate programs. The researchers will spend a week in July at the sprawling complex near Chicago.

By peering past the corroded metal on the artifacts’ surfaces and deep into their cores, Dodd and her team hope to discover the makeup and structure of the finds, which range from a series of bronze axes and swords to exquisitely forged miniature bronze-gold figurines of unknown age.

The answers may help tell the story of ancient Mediterranean trading life, which largely revolved around palatial centers.

The rulers of such palatial centers sent each other loads of gifts to “grease the wheels of trade,” Dodd said.

“(The X-ray) is a way in to understand how things operated and how trade politics, resources, moved in the ancient world. It’s a story of power and money.”

The X-ray analysis should provide clues to some basic questions. How were the figurines made? Was the technology behind the swords and axes tightly controlled or did multiple centers have access to it? If one palace owned a technology, could archaeologists try to measure its influence and wealth by searching for artifacts made the same way at other dig sites?

Unlike traditional sampling methods, X-ray analysis will not destroy or disturb the artifacts.

See the above page for the full story.

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