Professor Steven Shackley directs the Geoarchaeological XRF Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, currently partly supported by National Science Foundation funding. This is an extension of a project begun over 25 years ago, and has been constantly developing over that time. He, and his graduate student colleagues use the laboratory's x-ray fluorescence (XRF) facilities to train students in geoarchaeological science. For the last 18 years Shackley and his students through fieldwork at sources of obsidian throughout the North American Southwest have produced the most comprehensive database of obsidian sources anywhere that is used by researchers worldwide (see This is the most comprehensive obsidian source database in the world. The team typically analyzes hundreds to thousands of artifacts each year from academic, private sector, and government agencies. Obsidian was such a valuable stone material it was traded from sources in Nevada all the way to New Jersey in prehistory.

The current project has two main foci: 1) to relocate and sample a number of sources that are important in understanding Southwest prehistory, but were collected 20 to 25 years ago with methods not as advanced as today, characterize their trace element signatures, and add them to the database; and 2) develop an online searchable database for all the hundreds of reports of the archaeological and geological obsidian projects conducted since 1985. With this database and the current online obsidian source database, anyone, anywhere will be able to compile and create research on the obsidian sources and reports in the North American Southwest.

Students are currently analyzing obsidian artifacts from Paleoindian sites (ca. 10,000-15,000 years old) in the Middle Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, late period artifacts from Nebraska, obsidian from Costa Rican and Ethiopian sites (the latter are up to 1 million years old), pottery and porcelain fragments from historic sites on the Berkeley campus, and many more. Broader impacts, are part and parcel of the lab's work

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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University of California Berkeley
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