The Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science


Stephen Weiner, Director
The Walter and Dr. Trude Brochardt Professorial Chair of Structural Biology

Archaeology is the study of ancient cultures based on the material remains that have survived the ravages of time. This represents a most challenging objective that requires on the one hand, some of the most sophisticated analytical tools available, and on the other hand a keen understanding of human culture and history. This blend of science and humanities is unique. Israel's geographic location at the cross-roads between Africa, Europe and Asia, and its relatively mild climate, are two of the main reasons why this small country is so well endowed with a wonderfully rich archaeological record.

The achievements of the archaeological community of this country over the last 80 years have contributed enormously to the overall knowledge of past human culture. The last 40 years have, however, witnessed a shift in the way archaeological research is practised. There is an increasing use of the scientific method, along with a dependence on more and more sophisticated analytical capabilities to reveal that part of the archaeological record not seen with the naked eye. We refer to this as "microarchaeology". This trend in turn has exasperated a situation that exists in Israel, and almost all western countries, namely that archaeologists are educated in the faculties of humanities, yet the practice of archaeology in many respects is most suited to the natural sciences.

This situation prompted the Weizmann Institute to establish the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science, with its primary aim being the training of students at the PhD level in both the natural sciences and archaeology. In November 1997, the Center was formally established in a newly renovated building on the campus designed by the famous architect, Mendelsohn.

The Center's resources are used primarily for fellowships and modest research funds for 5 to 6 PhD students. The special PhD program involves one year devoted entirely to studies, usually in archaeology if the student has a background in the natural sciences or vica versa. The remaining 4 years are devoted to research and some course work. The Center has a joint agreement with Bar Ilan University to carry out research and teaching in the field of microarchaeology.

Some of the research topics currently being investigated are differences in atomic disorder in calcites formed in different ways, the study of minerals that form as a result of exposure to high temperatures as a means of deciphering past activities involving high temperatures, and the analysis of lipids preserved in ceramic vessels as a means of studying the contents and functions of these vessels. Each summer the Kimmel Center students and staff spend several weeks in the field at Tel es Safi as part of an ongoing project with Bar Ilan University to better understand the archaeology of this important site through the materials. An on-site laboratory is operated. The Kimmel center also operates an international field school in the summer at Tel es Safi.

The Center also supports the maintenance and upgrading of the technological infrastructure required for archaeological research at the Institute. The main campus facilities currently used for archaeological research, include the Radiocarbon Laboratory which is acquiring an accelerator mass spectrometer in the near future, residue analysis laboratory, a laboratory for archaeometallurgical research, electron microscope facilities for imaging and elemental analyses, and Raman and infrared vibrational spectrometers. The Center also supports scientific exchanges with foreign scientists, and holds weekly meetings and seminars for scientific communication.