Shining a light on the effects of environmental changes on the preservation of organic materials

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Potential threats to archaeological sites preserved in situ are determined by both the environmental parameters of the burial environment and the state of preservation of any material present 1. 25 years of research into preservation in situ has furnished us with a wealth of knowledge, but the direct consequence of changes in these parameters on the degradation of organic remains can be difficult to decipher. This is largely due to the complexities of the diagenetic pathways involved 2,3.

Our recent research at Star Carr applied a range of analytical techniques to assess deterioration in bone and wood, and link this to geochemical changes at the site 4. We demonstrated that material already heavily degraded is at risk of incredibly rapid loss (within a year) if burial conditions change; a rate much greater than initially thought. Such approaches have the potential to significantly improve our understanding of how changes in the burial environment directly affect the archaeological material. As analytical methods improve, the quality of this understanding will continue to enhance the data available when making site management decisions.

However, the application of high-end analytical techniques can depend on expert involvement, and coherent translation of that knowledge to the decision maker. This can sometimes lead to inconsistency in the level of detail obtained by condition assessment of the archaeological remains; this is often dependent on the people involved in the project, time constraints and cost pressures. If we are to use emerging techniques to their full potential, we therefore need better routes of communication between researchers and the heritage community.

In a multi-disciplinary project, we are now exploring how these barriers to communication can be overcome to ensure that appropriate methodologies are applied, taking into account the limitations faced by the decision makers assessing the potential for preservation in situ.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017
EventEuropean Association of Archaeologists annual meeting 2017 - MECC, Maastricht, Netherlands
Duration: 30 Aug 20173 Sept 2017


ConferenceEuropean Association of Archaeologists annual meeting 2017

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