With National Science Foundation support Dr. Sarah Wisseman and her collaborators will test the feasibility of applying near-infra red spectrometry to archaeological analysis. She will purchase a PIMA reflectance spectrometer to determine artifact minerological composition. Because many sources for clay or other materials used by prehistoric peoples are minerologically distinct, it is often possible through chemical analysis to match finished artifacts recovered in archaeological sites to their raw material source and thus reconstruct prehistoric trade routes and interaction patterns. PIMA has the potential to solve many of the problems that have led to a decline in the use of mineralogical analyses by archaeologists. The instrument is completely nondestructive and portable, and its light weight and "pistol grip" mean that it can be used in virtually all field settings. The relatively low cost of the instrument and its rapid, one per minute analysis time mean that large samples sets can be acquired at field sites, in museums and for geologic screening of possible source localities.
Because it has not been widely used in archaeological contexts Dr. Wisseman has designed a project both to address a significant anthropological question and to test the feasibility of this approach. She will focus on stone figurines and effigy pipes from sites occupied in the US Midwest over the last 2,000 years. Associated with Middle Woodland and Mississippian cultures, these artifacts have been interpreted by archaeologists to indicate the existence of a long distance trade network which extended from the northern Midwest to the Gulf coast. Because most were used in ritual contexts a form of hierarchical social organization associated with religious/ritual control has been hypothesized. Source information which Dr. Wisseman will collect can serve to address this issue directly. Preliminary data suggest that much of the material is of relatively local rather than distant origin.
This research is important for several reasons. It will assess the utility of new instrumentation which has high archaeological potential. It will also shed new light on the development of complex societies in the prehistoric United States.