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Exeter Dialogue With Science Usewear analysis: Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) in Tarragona (Spain)

Tuesday, 13 October, 2015 to Thursday, 15 October, 2015
Dr. Linda Hurcombe
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 
Participants: 2 Phd Students and Dr Linda Hurcombe, University of Exeter, Audience: 50 staff and students

During October 2015 a small team from Exeter University visited the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) in Tarragona (Spain). The visit was organized by the group from Exeter University as the second visit to further collaboration with the Institute. As part of the team Dr Linda Hurcombe, Alice La Porta (PhD student), and Sabine Martin (PhD student) had planned a set of activities related to optical and electronic microscopy techniques, analysis of archaeological data and analysis of experimental stone tools.
Sabine Martin, who is studying material at IPHES had kindly organized a set of activities related to the use of high power microscopes, scanning electron microscope (SEM) and the techniques related to the preparation of samples and artefacts (such as putting on the gold coating). Dr Linda Hurcombe was formally invited to present a seminar on use-wear analysis and stone tool life-cycles, “Tasks, Tools and Technologies: use-wear analysis and understanding tools as choices”. Alice La Porta had the chance to review part of the archaeological assemblage from Abri Romani for use-wear and technological analysis.
During the first day, the usewear team had the possibility to visit the microscopy laboratory at IPHES, which is at the forefront of microscopy and usewear techniques and research and home to some key Palaeolithic assemblages. After a visit of the building and facilities, the team had a 5 hour block of time in the microscopy lab, during which archaeological and experimental stone tools were analysed under the optical high power microscope. This was important specifically because numerous stone tools, used and collected during different Openarch summer activities, needed to be examined to understand specific use (tool oriented activities), specific contact material (e.g. wood, meat, skin), and types of movements (transversal vs longitudinal movement, such as scraping, cutting, whittling, sawing). Some of the stone tools coming from Athra-Lejre and the Mesolithic living experiment were placed under optical microscopes for evaluating use-wear formation patterns and features. The analysis of this material is ongoing but the facilities at IPHES allowed slightly different systems to be seen. The team of specialists discussed specific topic concerns such as polish topography, striations patterns, polish development, etc. The afternoon was spent on the preparation of archaeological and experimental stone tool samples for observation in the SEM. A metal coating process is mandatory before scanning electronic analysis, for this reason the entire afternoon was devoted to this special technique, using in this case gold dust. The technique is useful for quartz tools especially as their highly reflective surfaces can create problems using optical high magnification systems.
The second day was devoted to SEM analysis. Archaeological and experimental stone tools were placed into the chamber and observed and discussed by the entire work team. Very interesting comments and opinions were discussed during the 4 hour microscopy session. The afternoon was dedicated to the examination of parts of archaeological collections curated by IPHES, and kindly loaned to the Exeter team by Professors Andreu Ollé and Manuel Vaquero.
The third day saw Dr Linda Hurcombe hold her seminar on stone tool use-wear with good attendance and interaction by IPHES’s researchers and students. The seminar was followed by a question and answer session and several interesting questions and comments were raised concerning use-wear analysis and stone tool interpretations. Over lunch important achievements and further collaboration activities were discussed and the visiting team from Exeter were pleased to host Professor Andreu Ollé as a thank you. Some of the tables at the restaurant were of clear glass mounted over traditional threshing sledges which still had their small pieces of flint embedded in the sledge surface - very appropriate.
In conclusion the study visit at IPHES provided the opportunity for significant cooperation between academic Institutions, a possibility for Exeter University usewear team to work together with state of the art observation equipment including a new 3D digital imaging system being evaluated by Prof Ollé, and an important chance to continue the analysis and data recording of stone tools from several Openarch funded summer projects.


Sabine Martin cutting Arundo donax for...
Alice and Sabine examining a coated sample.
A coated sample being loaded into the SEM...
The crew in one of the IPHES microscope labs.
Linda working with one of the optical...
Sabine Martin and Linda Hurcombe in the SEM...
Linda Hurcombe giving a lecture to IPHES...