What is Microarchaeology?

The archaeological record is composed of the part that can be seen by the naked eye – the macroscopic record, and the part that can only be revealed with the help of instrumentation – the microscopic record. I refer to the process of revealing the microscopic record as “microarchaeology” (Weiner, 2010).
Reconstructing the archaeological record, and hence past human behavior, is an enormous challenge. It is therefore of great interest to extract as much reliable information from the whole archaeological record, especially during the 

excavation.  This in turn necessitates operating an on-site laboratory so that some information can be obtained from the microscopic record in  real time. In this way the excavation strategy can be adapted to the microscopic finds as they are discovered, and then to also use this on-site capability to obtain the best suite of samples possible for further analysis in the laboratory. In our experience the key instruments for an on-site laboratory are petrographic microscopes and a Fourier transform infrared spectrometer (FTIR). Figure X shows an on-site laboratory in operation.

For more information on the basic concepts used in microarchaeology, as well as on-site analysis and the use of FTIR, see the book that I wrote entitled “Microarchaeology: Beyond the Visual Archaeological Record (Weiner, 2010) (Fig. 1).

Many of these ideas were developed together with my colleagues, Dr Ruth Shahack-Gross and Dr Elisabetta Boaretto. Together we carry out our archaeological research within the framework of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science. In 2012 a second center for archaeological research was established at the Weizmann Institute. It is the Weizmann Institute- Max Planck Society Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology. This center is co-directed by Profs Jean-Jacques Hublin from the MPI for Human Evolution in Leipzig, and Steve Weiner. The research at the Weizmann Institute is directed by Dr Boaretto and the focus is on the timing of cultural change.