You are on page 1of 5

Society for American Archaeology

Geoarchaeology: The Geologist and Archaeology Author(s): Fekri A. Hassan Source: American Antiquity, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Apr., 1979), pp. 267-270 Published by: Society for American Archaeology Stable URL: Accessed: 13/11/2008 11:04
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Society for American Archaeology is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Antiquity.


Fekri A. Hassan
Geoarchaeology is the contribution from earth sciences to the resolution of geology-related problems in archaeology. Its scope is wide, encompassing (1) locating archaeological sites, (2) evaluating the geomorphic landscape for site catchment activities and site location, (3) studying regional stratigraphic and microstratigraphic materials for relative dating and recognition of lateral and vertical distribution of activity areas, (4) analyzing sediments for the elucidation of site-forming processes and quantification of microarchaeological (submacroscopic) remains, (5) analyzing paleoenvironments, (6) studying artifacts to determine manufacturing practices, procurement range, trade, and exchange networks, (7) modeling cultural/environmental interactions, (8) conserving archaeological resources, and (9) geochronology. THE RECENT PAPER BY GLADFELTER ON GEOARCHAEOLOGY (1977) is an excellent examproblems. It presents ple of the recent advances in the application of geology to archaeological

the kinds of sophisticated analyses and new concepts that ought to be considered by archaepast human environments. ologists and geologists who deal with reconstructing is defined by Gladfelter as the "contribution of earth sciences, particularly Geoarchaeology contexts" of archaeological geomorphology and sedimentary petrography, to the interpretation

(1977:519). However, the scope of geoarchaeology or, as some call it, archaeological geology is in practice broader than what may be construed from Gladfelter's definition. I should like in this note to draw the attention of archaeologists and geologists who may not be familiar with the geoarchaeological Archaeology, literature especially to the diverse prehistoric methods archaeology, and approaches of this exciting field. has always had strong ties with geology. The

formulation of the concepts of uniformitarianism and stratigraphy in geology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries paved the way for the acceptance of the idea of human antiquity and provided the basis for interpreting the evolution of humanity and its cultures (Daniel 1962). Arof paleochaeologists viewed geology as a source of information on stratigraphy, reconstruction and geochronology. environments, Recently, as a result of a shift in the theoretical orientation to a genuine concern for the within archaeology from an emphasis on historical reconstruction dimensions of the human past, the scope of geological applications in archaeology anthropological

has expanded to deal with new questions. These concern the relationship between the geological setting of a region and settlement location, the nature of site-forming processes, the recognition of
sites, the role played by geological processes in distorting or activity areas in archaeological record, and the dynamic relationship between man and the earth. preserving the archaeological Thus geoarchaeology today deals with the integration of earth sciences and the human past. Butzer's Environment and Archaeology (1971) is an excellent example of the broad scope of geoar-

chaeology in contemporary research. Geoarchaeology: Earth Science and the Past, edited by Davidson and Shackley (1976), presents many of the new applications of sediment analysis to archaeology. Recent geoarchaeological research is also well represented by the papers delivered in a number of symposia held at the meetings of the Geological Society of America. Papers in these symposia ranged from geophysical exploration and geomorphology through sedimentology to trace element geochemistry and radiocarbon dating (Rapp et al. 1974). It should be mentioned here that a symposium on "archaeological geology" was held at the GSA Seattle meeting in 1977, that another was held at the 1978 meeting in Toronto, and, more important, that a division of archaeological geology has now been established within the Geological Society of America. This last is a major event in that it provides a formal recognition of the mutual contributions of geologists and archaeologists to an understanding of the geological problems of the archaeological past.
Fekri A. Hassan, Department of Anthropology, Washington State Univerity, Pullman, WA 99164



[Vol. 44, No. 2,1979

A survey of the geoarchaeological literature is not the subject of this note, however. Rather I wish to bring to the attention of archaeologists the various areas in which geoarchaeological research has been done, hoping that they will realize the great significance of this research for contemporary archaeological investigation. I have listed below nine geoarchaeological topics with selected references, which the reader may wish to consult for further details. 1. Location of archaeological sites by geophysical and geochemical methods, such as phosphate analysis and pH measurements (Linington 1963; Gumerman and Lyons 1971; Weide 1966; Eidt 1973, 1977; Provan 1971). 2. Geomorphological analysis of archaeological site areas (Van Zuidam 1975). This is of great importance for site catchment analysis (Vita-Finzi and Higgs 1970) and for the evaluation of ancient landscape in terms of settlement location, i.e., geoekistics (Hassan 1977). It is also useful in evaluating the effect of geological processes on the density and distribution of artifacts in a site (Kirkby and Kirkby 1976). 3. Regional stratigraphic studies of site areas and microstratigraphic studies of archaeological sites (Haynes 1968; Hay 1976; Kraft et al. 1975; Hassan 1975). These are important not only for interpreting the relative dating of cultural layers but also, in conjunction with sedimentological analysis, for contributing to an understanding of site-forming processes and the positioning of activity areas. 4. Sedimentological analysis of archaeological deposits and associated sediments (Hassan 1978). In addition to the importance of this method in paleoenvironmental reconstruction (Butzer 1975; Farrand 1973), it is of great significance in reconstructing the developmental history of a site, i.e., rate of deposition and pattern of accumulation or removal of archaeological deposits (Davidson 1973; Lubell et al. 1976). It is also of great value, when modified to include a study of submacroscopic, microarchaeological remains, in the identification of in-site distribution of human activities and in the analysis of the subsistence base (Cook and Treganza 1950; Hassan and Lubell 1975). These sources of information are crucial for interpreting the interaction between people and the landscape. 5. Paleoenvironmental analysis. This sis based on geomorphological, stratigraphic, and sedimentological studies in conjunction with the study of soils, fauna, macrobotanical remains, and pollen. nt (e.g., fluvial, aeolian, and lake enThe first task is to reconstruct the sedimentary en vironments) by means of facies models (Selley 1976). The second task is to reconstruct the climatic-morphogenic environments (e.g., periglacial, tropical, and desert environments) (Butzer 1971) and the prehistoric paleogeography (Kraft et al. 1975). 6. Technical analysis of artifacts to elucidate the manufacturing techniques (e.g., petrographic studies of ceramics and metal artifacts), source areas of archaeological raw materials (e.g., petrography and trace element analysis of flint and obsidian artifacts and ores, which may shed light on trade and exchange networks), and the spatial range of site catchment areas (Sieveking et al. 1972; Brill and Shields 1972; Peacock 1970; Renfrew at al. 1968; Hays and Hassan 1974; PiresFerreira 1976). 7. Modeling of the dynamic relationship between human activities and the landscape. This is a research problem that is of fundamental importance in dealing with the articulation of past cultural systems with their environments, a focus of a great deal of contemporary archaeological investigation. It is a research problem that draws upon the results of the foci of geoarchaeological analysis discussed above (Larsen 1975: Fairservis 1967; Lubell et al. 1976; Butzer 1976; Folk 1975; Hack 1942; Hay 1976). 8. Conservation and preservation of archaeological resources endangered by frequent flooding, salinization, and groundwater movements (Unesco 1968, 1972). 9. Dating (Michels 1973; Michael and Ralph 1971). Gladfelter presents a strong case for the applications of geomorphological analysis and sedimentology in archaeological research. The greatest impact of his article lies in emphasizing the role of paleoenvironmental analysis for interpreting "man-land relationships." This means, as Gladfelter has suggested, that both the archaeologist and the geologist must work together not just to resolve methodological conflicts but to define the problems to which the geologist will devote




his effort. Geological investigations should be integrated with archaeological work to be truly geoarchaeological. The ultimate aim of paleoenvironmental analysis is not to supply the ar-

chaeologist with a general description of the paleogeographicsetting of the site or paleoclimatic conditions but to provide an understandingof those key paleoenvironmentalvariables that were or could have been influential in the operationof the cultural system. For example, in early farming communitiesthese variables may consist of the pattern of flooding,rate of siltation, salinization, drainage problems, extent of arable area, and frequency of droughts(Butzer 1976).
The specific geoarchaeological questions should rise from a consideration of geological variables in man-earth interactive systems. As Butzer has pointed out (1975), the geologist should be well acquainted with the goals and aims of anthropological archaeology, and the archaeologist should be fully aware of the potentials of geological investigations. Gladfelter's paper surely brings the potential contributions of geomorphological analysis to archaeology into focus. This

comment,I hope, provides a broader view of the potential contributionsfromthe earth sciences in
general to contemporary archaeology. It is indeed fortunate that so many geologists today have

dedicated themselves to archaeological problems.Their efforts far exceed the minimalcontributions to stratigraphy and dating thatin archaeologists. were for a long time synonymous with geology in the minds of

Brill, Robert H., and William R. Shields H, 1972 Lead isotopes in ancient coins. In Methods of chemical and metallurgical investigation of ancient coinage, edited by E. T. Hall and D. M. Metcalf. Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication No. 8. Butzer, Karl W. 1971 Environment and archeology, an ecological approach to prehistory (2nd ed.). Aldine,Chicago. 1975 The ecological approach to archaeology: are we really trying? American Antiquity 40:106-111. 1976 Early hydraulic civilization in Egypt: a study in cultural ecology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Cook, S. F., and A. E. Treganza 1950 The quantitative investigations of Indian mounds. University of California Publications, American Archaeology and Ethnology 40:223-261. Daniel, Glyn 1962 The idea of prehistory. Penguin Books, Baltimore. Davidson, D. A. 1973 Particle size and phosphate analysis-evidence and for the evolution of a tell. Archaeometry 15(1):143152. Davidson, D. A., and M. L. Shackley (editors) 1976 Geoarchaeology: earth science and the past. Duckworth, London. Eidt, R. C. 1973 A rapid chemical test for archaeological site surveying. American Antiquity 38:206-210. 1977 Detection and examination of anthrosols by phosphate analysis. Science 197:1327-1333. Fairservis, Walter A., Jr. 1967 The origin, character, and decline of an early civilization. American Museum Novitates 2302:1-48. Farrand, W. R. 1973 New excavations at the Tabun Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel, 1967-1972: a preliminary report. Paleorient 1:151-183. Folk, Robert L. 1975 Geological urban hindplanning: an example from a Hellenistic-Byzantine city, Stobi, Yugoslavian Macedonia. Environmental Geology 1:5-22. Gladfelter, B. G. 1977 Geoarchaeology: the geomorphologist and archaeology. American Antiquity 42:519-538. Gumerman, George J., and Thomas R. Lyons 1971 Archaeological methodology and remote sensing. Science 172:126-132. Hack, John T. 1942 The changing physical environment of the Hopi Indians of Arizona. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology 35(1). Hassan, F. A. 1975 Geology and geomorphology of the Ain Mistehiya locality. In The prehistoric cultural ecology of Capsian escargotieres, edited by D. Lubell et al. Libyca 23:60-70. 1977 Field manual to geoarchaeology, ms.



[Vol. 44, No. 2, 1979]

1978 Sediments in archaeology: methods and implications for palaeoenvironmental and cultural analysis. Journal of Field Archaeology 5(2):197-213. Hassan, F. A., and D. Lubell 1975 Prehistoric cultural ecology. In The prehistoric cultural ecology of Capsian escargotieres, edited by D. Lubell et al. Libyca 23:92-98. Hay, R. L. 1976 Geology of Olduvai Gorge: a study of sedimentation in a semi-arid basin. University of California Press, Berkeley. Haynes, C. V. 1968 Preliminary report on the late Quaternary geology of the San Pedro Valley, Arizona. Southern Arizona Guidebook III, pp. 79-96. Arizona Geological Society, Tucson, Arizona. Hays, T. R., and F. A. Hassan 1974 Mineralogical analysis of Sudanese Neolithic ceramics. Archaeometry 16:71-79. Kirkby, A., and M. J. Kirkby 1976 Geomorphic processes and the surface survey of archaeological sites in semi-arid areas. In Geoarchaeology: earth science and the past, edited by D. A. Davidson and M. L. Shackley, pp. 229-253. Duckworth, London. Kraft, J. C., G. Rapp, Jr. and S. F. Aschenbrenner 1975 Late Holocene palaeogeography of the coastal plain of the Gulf of Messinia, Greece, and its relationship to archaeological settings and coastal change. Geological Society of America Bulletin 86:1191-1208. Larsen, Curtis E. 1975 The Mesopotamian delta region: a reconsideration of Lees and Falcon. Journal of the American Oriental Society 95(1):43-57. Linington, Richard E. 1963 The application of geophysics to archaeology. American Scientist 51(1):48-70. Lubell, D., F. A. Hassan, A. Gautier, and J. L. Ballais 1976 The Capsian escargotieres: an interdisciplinary study elucidates Holocene ecology and subsistence in North Africa. Science 191:910-920. Michael, H. N., and E. K. Ralph 1971 Dating techniques for the archaeologist. M.I.T. Press, Cambridge. Michels, J. W. 1973 Dating methods in archaeology. Seminar Press, New York. Peacock, D. P. S. 1970 The scientific analysis of ancient ceramics: a review. World Archaeology (1(3):375-389. Pires-Ferreira, J. W. 1976 Shell and iron ore mirror exchange in Formative Mesoamerica, with comments on other commodities. In The early Mesoamerican village, edited by Kent V. Flannery, pp. 311-328. Academic Press, New York. Provan, D. M. J. 1971 Soil phosphate analysis as a tool in archaeology. Norwegian Archaeological Review 4:37-50. Rapp, E., Jr., R. Bullard, and C. Albritton 1974 Geoarchaeology? The Geologist, the Newsletter of the Geological Society of America 9(1):1. Renfrew, C. A., J. E. Dixon, and J. R. Cann 1968 Further analysis of Near Eastern obsidians. In Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 34:319-331. Selley, R. C. 1976 An introduction to sedimentology. Academic Press, New York. Sieveking, G. De G., P. Bush, J. Ferguson, P. T. Craddock, M. J. Hughes, and M. R. Cowell 1972 Prehistoric flint mines and their identification as sources of raw material. Archaeometry 14(2): 151-176. UNESCO 1968 The conservation of cultural property with special reference to tropical conditions. UNESCO Museums and Monument Series, # 11. 1972 Preserving and restoring monuments and historic buildings. UNESCO Museums and Monument Series, # 14. Van Zuidam, R. A. 1975 Geomorphology and archaeology, evidences of interrelation at historical sites in the Zaragoza region, Spain. Z. Geomorphology N.F. 19:319-328. Vita-Finzi, Caludio, and E. S. Higgs 1970 Prehistoric economy in the Mount Carmel area of Palestine-site catchment analysis. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 36:1-37. Weide, David L. 1966 Soil pH as a guide to archaeological investigation. Archaeological Survey Annual Report 1966. Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles.