Surface morphometry and metrology are quantification techniques applied in combination with use wear qualitative analysis in order to obtain reliable functional interpretations. Surface quantification provides numerical data associated with functional surface modifications. Measuring the variation of these values on experimental replicas before and after use allows to isolate numerical data related to specific activities and/or worked materials to be compared to the archaeological samples. Surface quantification estimates topographic values of surface depressions and roughness from the analysis of 3D models, reaching an accuracy of 1mm. It also analyses surface metrology of the utilised area(s) of a tool, reaching a definition of 1μm and computing measurements following ISO standards.
To reconstruct the oral microbiome of ancient humans we apply cutting-edge aDNA techniques capable of retrieving genetic information from millions of bacteria entrapped in the mineral matrix of the dental calculus. In dedicated aDNA facilities, we isolate through silica methods the DNA contained in the dental calculus and prepare genomic libraries. We exploit the high throughoutput power of Illumina Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) platforms to generate through shotgun methods the untargeted sequencing of the DNA content of a library – millions of DNA sequences. By means of bioinformatic methods and metagenomic classifiers, and following strict authentication criteria (e.g. assessment of post-mortem DNA molecules damage), the oral microbiota of the ancient individuals is reconstructed, providing insights into health conditions and diet. DNA sequences from food residues entrapped in dental calculus (e.g. plant and animal species) may also be detected.
Close range photogrammetry (CRP) represents one of the new documenting technique applied in the fields of archaeology and cultural heritage. This photo-based technique can be applied over a variety of mateirls and leads to the creation of extremely accurate 3D models that can be used for both research and outreach purposes. The application of spatial analysis is common in archaeology. However, its application at a micro scale in use wear studies is still limited. Combining the microscopic analysis of the artefacts with the spatial distribution of use wear and residues provides detailed evidence cocerning the development and distribution of traces over the tool, allowing to define spatial patterns related to specific activities or worked materials.
In order to interpret the functional nature of archaeological non-flaked and ground stone tools we will create experimental replicas and use them in different activities such as plant food processing, butchering, wood, hide and mineral working, etc. Such large experimental collection will serve as a reference for interpreting use wear and residues preserved on the archaeological tools. Surface morphometric analyses will be performed on modern tool replicas to quantify surface functional modifications and build a quantitative reference dataset. An experimental database of modern starch granules and phytoliths extracted from different plant foods collected in different areas of Italy and the Balkans will also be created and their main morphological characteristics recorded.
Dental calculus (or tartar) is a mineralised bacterial plaque adhering to the tooth enamel and composed primarily of calcium phosphate salts mixed with remnants of previously viable micro-organisms. As the deposition of tartar is continuous during the life and stops at the death of the individual, the calcified plaque represents a unique source of human biographic information. The study of ancient tartar allows us to shed light on ancient individual hygiene and health status, by sequencing the DNA of bacterial communities associated with the human body (microbiome); dietary preferences, through the identification of animal and plant food particles; lifestyle and human interaction with the environment, through the identification of airborne micro-particles that have been inhaled or ingested while performing daily life activities.
Flotation is a technique developed in order to recover light organic materials such as plant remains (e.g. seeds, wood), shell remains and other small cultural fractions from the archaeological deposit. Two different methods are generally used during excavation: bucket flotation (otherwise known as wet sieving) and flotation using a machine. The first allows for a high rate of control over the material that can be recovered. The deposit is slowly poured into water, agitated by hand and, successively, all the floating material is sieved carefully. The second method is optimal when extensive flotation is carried out as samples of archaeological sediment are poured into a large barrel full of water, which is agitated by inflowing water.
Use wear analysis is a methodology grounded in experimental activity by means of which surface modifications related to the use of modern replicas are reproduced and classified as a reference for the interpretation of archaeological artefacts. Experimental traces are microscopically observed in order to identify morphological patterns associated to specific activities and worked materials such as hide, bone, wood, plants, minerals. Optical light microscopes are usually used to observe traces at low (<100x) and high (200x - 500x) magnifications. Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and Confocal microscope are also employed in the observation and interpretation of use related wear.