Microarchaeology at the Badè

As the basic unit of society, households contain a wealth of information about cultural practices, social structures and everyday tasks. Microarchaeology is one way of discovering and interpreting the artifacts that have fallen through the cracks. These microartifacts (pictured right) are less than one centimeter in size and can be the sole remaining clue of the activities that took place. Microartifacts become unintentionally embedded in the surfaces within and surrounding ancient houses and give us a glimpse of domestic life that is not usually accessible through normal excavation. Due to their size they are also less likely to be disturbed by regular cleaning or abandonment of a house. The focus of this research is households at Kenan Tepe, a Late Chalcolithic (3600-3000 B.C.) site in southeastern Turkey.

Microarchaeology requires a keen eye and lots of patience to sort a sample bag into data that is useful and relevant. The samples we receive at the Badè Museum have been excavated from domestic areas that include floors, ovens, alleyways and trash middens. Each bag is sorted by hand in a meticulous process that separates the microartifacts from the sediment. With the aid of a microscope these artifacts are classified according to material and type, such as ceramic, bone, shell, etc. With these data we are able to correlate microartifact patterns within households to better understand uses of space. The end result allows for a statistical analysis of artifact use that would otherwise go undetected by regular excavation techniques.

The unique origin of each sample we sort allows our study to contribute to our knowledge of what "home" meant to the community at Kenan Tepe and how these households relate to each other. By adding our microarchaeological results to the larger picture of domestic life we gain insight into the way past people's activities and behavior affected their larger environment. We can determine their use of space over time, compare patterns between households in the same community, and document their relations with the larger world through trade and interaction. The valuable information gathered from these minute artifacts allows us a fuller and more nuanced picture of domestic life in ancient Turkey.

Catherine P. Foster (Badè Museum), Rachel Marks (UC Berkeley), LaTasha Johnson (UC Berkeley)

References:

Foster, C. P. 2009. Household Archaeology and the Uruk Phenomenon: A Case Study from Kenan Tepe, Turkey. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California Berkeley.

Foster, C. P.; Parker, B. J., Uzel, M. B.; and Jensen, R. 2009. "Microarchaeological Analyses," in "The Upper Tigris Archaeological Research Project (UTARP): A Preliminary Report from the 2007 and 2008 Field Seasons at Kenan Tepe." Anatolica 35 (2009): 93–109.