Science in Archaeology | CAI | SIU

Southern Illinois University



Science in Archaeology

The use of scientific instruments to analyze the elemental composition of artifacts and remotely search for subsurface features at archaeological sites is increasingly coming to the forefront in archaeology. The CAI currently is in the process of acquiring remote sensing equipment that can be used to provide students with “hands-on” training in the use of such instruments. We recently (2015) acquired a state-of-the art GSSI SIR 4000 ground penetrating radar unit that can be used to remotely search for archaeological features such as building foundations, graves, and wells at historic period archaeological sites. By summer, 2016, the CAI also will have a Geometrics Model 858 Cesium Magnetometer that can be used to conduct similar types of studies at prehistoric archaeological sites. The CAI anticipates training students in the use of these instruments as part of cultural resources management (CRM) classes offered through the SIU Anthropology Department, projects we conduct on an annual basis for state and federal agencies, and public outreach projects for the local southern Illinois community.  

Students and staff working for the CAI also have the opportunity to obtain training and experience in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and portable-ray fluorescence (pXRF) analysis. GIS is increasingly used by federal agencies to spatially plot the locations and distribution of archaeological sites that they manage and the CAI routinely conducts this type of research for the federal and state governments.

The CAI also has access to a portable-ray fluorescence (pXRF) instrument belonging to the university that can be used for archaeological research. This past year (2015) CAI staff used the pXRF instrument to examine the elemental composition of prehistoric rock art paintings in southern Illinois as part of a grant from the National Geographic Society (NGS). We also (2015) conducted a pXRF analysis of white residue located around a series of perforations on the base of a brass kettle recovered from a late 1700s-early 1800s Native American Sauk village in Illinois. This revealed that the white residue was lead, suggesting that the perforated kettle base may have been used in the production of lead shot, the first time that this type of artifact had been identified at a historic period Native American site in Illinois. We anticipate that pXRF rock art and metal artifact analyses will continue to form part of CAI studies in the future, providing students with an opportunity to receive training in the use of pXRF technology on futureresearch  projects.

CAI is dedicated to promoting science in archaeology.  We aid students in learning and refining their abilities using both industry-standard and state-of-the-art analytical techniques, from remote sensing to spatial analysis.  The Center is equipped to train students and facilitate analysis using techniques such as: portable xground penetrating radar (GPR), magnetometry (coming late in 2016), geographic information systems (GIS).