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Journal of Applied Geophysics 48 2001. 137142 www.elsevier.


Short communication

Gamma-ray spectrometry: a new tool for exploring archaeological sites; a case study from East Sinai, Egypt
Mohamed Moussa
Geology Department, Faculty of Science, Suez Canal Uniersity, Ismaillia, 41522, Egypt Received 10 May 2001; accepted 11 July 2001

Abstract In geophysical literature the application of gamma-ray spectrometric GRS. methods in archaeological exploration is not known. This paper demonstrates the applicability of the GRS technique to archaeological exploration. The study was conducted in the Tell Abu Seef area, which is located ; 6 km from El-Qantara city, Egypt where some buried walls of possible archaeological interest. were detected in 1981. The recorded K% values as well as the readings of total gamma-ray intensities were related to two different radiometric areas that match the building remains and the surrounding sediments. The highest concentrations of K% coincide with the wall remains, which consist of muddy material. Lower values of K% were found in the surrounding media, which consists of Quaternary sediments. The contrast between the building remains and the surrounding sediments is so clear that it is obvious that GRS is capable of offering solutions to important archaeological problems. q 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Abu Seef; Gamma-ray spectrometric surveying; Archaeological exploration

1. Introduction Many subsurface bodies of archaeological interest such as tombs or wall remains have been detected by geophysical methods since 1940. These methods provide fast and cheap techniques to evaluate the dimensions and locations of hidden archaeological remains. The details of the principles and methodologies of archaeological geophysics are by now very well reported in the literature and need not be repeated here e.g., Tite, 1972; Aitken, 1974; Wynn, 1986; Scollar et al., 1990; Clark, 1996; David and Payne, 1997..

E-mail address: M. Moussa..

Natural radioactivity measurements have been applied in geologic studies for a variety of purposes. Some examples of these applications include petroleum exploration Armstrong and Heemstra, 1973., uranium exploration Charbonneau and Ford, 1979. and geologic mapping Moussa and El Khateeb, 1994.. The natural radioactivity method, however, has not been applied in archeological exploration. Gamma-ray spectrometry GRS. can provide a direct measurement of radioactivity only at the earths surface, with very little depth of penetration. Potassium K., uranium U. and thorium Th. are the three most abundant, naturally occurring radioactive elements. Potassium is a major constituent of most rocks whereas uranium and thorium are present in

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M. Moussa r Journal of Applied Geophysics 48 (2001) 137142

Fig. 1. Photograph showing burial remaining walls after removal of top soil cover.

trace amounts, either as mobile or immobile elements. All common rock types and the soils derived from them contain a measurable amount of the naturally radioactive elements, uranium, thorium and potassium. The idea of the use of GRS for archaeological exploration is based on knowledge that, since the

beginning of historic time the use of fire clay bricks. in building construction has slowly become widespread. The presence of the clay bricks which are rich in potassium minerals causes contrasts in the radioelement concentrations between the materials of the building construction and the surrounding mostly sandy medium. Such a phenomenon can be detected

Fig. 2. Location map showing the Tell Abu Seef area under study.

M. Moussa r Journal of Applied Geophysics 48 (2001) 137142


geophysically using GRS. The efficiency, however, of GRS in archeological exploration would depend on the following parameters: 1. GRS devices can only detect the targets to a maximum of a few centimetres depth however, the soil directly above the clay bricks is likely derived from the crumbled bricks.. 2. The success of GRS method in prospecting for archeological sites depends on the assumable contrast in the concentration of radioelements eU, eTh, K% and total count TC.. between a target feature and its surrounding environment. In this communication, building remains of possible archaeological interest Fig. 1. occurring in the Tell Abu Seef area ; 6 km from El-Qantara city, North Sinai, Fig. 2. were chosen to test the validity of the above-mentioned idea. Respecting the area under investigation, many archaeological sites were, however, discovered, including: Tell Farma, Pelusium, Tell Hebwa, Tell Abu Seef and Tell El-Makhzan, all situated at the eastern side of the Suez Canal. These sites represent many different archaeological features, indicating the presence of different civilizations at the same site Hassan, 2000..

energy windows of the uranium, thorium and potassium channels. Artificial concrete calibration pads of blank, potassium, uranium and thorium of Canadian style Killeen and Conaway, 1978. were used to

2. Procedure A portable gamma-ray spectrometer SCINTREX model GAD-6. was used for the measurement of gamma radiation. The calibration and use of portable gamma-ray spectrometers was described in detail by Killeen 1979.. The total count energy window was set between 0.15 and 2.77 MeV. In the gamma-ray energy spectrum. The 1.76 MeV from 214 Bi peak of the 238 U series was used for uranium measurements eU.. Thorium eTh. was determined from the 2.61 MeV gamma-rays from the 208 Tl peak of the 232 Th series. Potassium was measured directly from the 1.46 MeV gamma-ray photons emitted by 40 K. The spectrometer was energy calibrated at the start of each working day using a thorium calibration source to bring the proper energy peaks into the preset

Fig. 3. Potassium K%. map of the studied area.


M. Moussa r Journal of Applied Geophysics 48 (2001) 137142

calibrate the spectrometer. The obtained calibration values including background and stripping corrections. were later used to convert the window count rates of the GAD-6 measured at the archaeological site into radioelement concentrations. The corrected total count gamma-ray measurements were converted into units of radioelement concentration Ur. recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency 1976.. The recorded radiometric measurements after being converted into concentrations of the radioelements, potassium K%., equivalent uranium eU in ppm., and equivalent thorium eTh in ppm. were then represented in contour maps for total count gamma-ray, uranium, potassium, and thorium Figs. 36.. The site to be studied Fig. 1. was first laid out as a rectangular grid. The interval between every two successive stations was 0.5 m, with 752 points being measured along 47 parallel profiles.

3. Results 3.1. Distribution of potassium Inspection of the potassium map Fig. 3. showed that the percentage of potassium is less than 3% over most of the area but ranges from 0.1% to 8%. The building remains possess a relatively elevated i.e. G 0.6%. potassium concentration compared with the surrounding sediments, which is readily recognized by its pronounced relatively low i.e. - 0.6%. K% values. 3.2. Distribution of total count Visual examination of the TC map Fig. 4. revealed that the area under study is characterized by relatively high TC readings G 5 Ur. over the building remains, and low TC readings - 5 Ur. over the surrounding sediments. Correlation analysis revealed a strong positive correlation R s 0.936. between the concentration of potassium and total count, including that the natural radioactivity is dominantly from potassium.

Fig. 4. Total count gamma-ray TC in Ur. map of the studied area.

3.3. Distribution of equialent uranium and thorium Inspection of equivalent uranium and thorium maps Figs. 5 and 6. revealed that the equivalent uranium eU. values are mostly between 1.2 and 4.2

M. Moussa r Journal of Applied Geophysics 48 (2001) 137142


there appears to be a vague outline of the building construction. This may be due to uranium and thorium minerals also present in the clay bricks, but in much less definitive amounts.

Fig. 5. Equivalent uranium eU in ppm. map of the studied area.

ppm but range from 0.2 to 21 ppm and thorium eTh. values are mostly between 5 and 11 ppm eTh but range from 1 to 29 ppm eTh. The eU and eTh values do not clearly distinguish between the building remains and the surrounding sediments although

Fig. 6. Equivalent uranium eTh in ppm. map of the studied area.


M. Moussa r Journal of Applied Geophysics 48 (2001) 137142 Armstrong, F.E., Heemstra, R.J., 1973. Radiation Haloes and Hydrocarbon Reservoirs: A Review. U.S. Bureau of Mines Information 8579. Charbonneau, B.W., Ford, K.L., 1979. Discovery of two uranium occurrences in Paleozoic sedimentary rocks at south March, Ontario and south Maitland, Nova Scotia by airborne gammaray spectrometry and comparison with surveys over Precambrian terrain. Journal of the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists 15 1., 5476. Clark, A.J., 1996. Seeing Beneath the Soil: Prospecting Method in Archaeology, 2nd edn. B.T. Batsford, London, 192 pp. David, A., Payne, A., 1997. Geophysical surveys within the stonehenge landscape: a review of post endeavour and future potential. Proceedings of the British Academy 92, 73113. Hassan, S., 2000. Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt: from Persian Era to Entrance of Alexander El-Akhbar to Egypt., Part 13. General Egypt Authority, Cairo, 827 pp. in Arabic.. International Atomic Energy Agency, 1976. Radiometric reporting methods and calibration in uranium exploration. Technical report series No.174, Vienna. Killeen, P.G., 1979. Gamma ray specrometric methods in uranium explorationapplication and interpretation. In: Hood, P.J. Ed.., Geophysics and Geochemistry in the Search for Metallic Ores. Geol. Surv. Can., Economic Geology Report, vol. 31, pp. 163229. Killeen, P.G., Conaway, J.G., 1978. New facilities for calibrating gamma-ray spectrometric logging and surface exploration equipment. CIM Bulletin 71 793., 8487. Moussa, M., El Khateeb, S.O., 1994. Rock unit mapping using statistical analysis applied to aeroradioactivity data and trend analysis for Bir Araiyda and surrounding area, North Eastern Desert Egypt. Radiation Physics and Chemistry 44 12., 219222. Scollar, I., Tabbagh, A., Hesse, A., Herzog, I. Eds.., 1990. Topics in Remote Sensing 2: Archaeological Prospecting and Remote Sensing. Cambridge University Press, pp. 506513. Tite, M.S., 1972. Methods of physical examination in archaeology. In: Dimbleby, G.W. Ed.., Studies in Archaeology Science. Seminar Press, London, 389 pp. Wynn, J., 1986. Archaeological prospecting: an introduction to the special issue. Geophysics 51 3., 533537.

4. Conclusions Careful inspection of the results shown above revealed that only the total count and K% map clearly defined boundaries between the building remains and the surrounding sediments in the area under study see Fig. 1.. These boundaries are represented by steep gradients on the contour maps of the K% and TC, making it possible to plot sharp clear contacts between the two media. This successful separation is must likely due to an original lithologicalrmineralogical difference between the muddy clayey. building remains and the surrounding Quaternary alluvium sandy. sediments. The equivalent U and Th maps, on the other hand, do not clearly distinguish between the two studied media. Analysis of samples of the two media in a gamma-ray spectrometric lab would help to confirm this. Perhaps the most important outcome of this work is that spectral gamma-ray surveying may be considered as a useful tool for archaeological exploration. The strong correlation between potassium and total count indicates that a simple santillometer survey without spectrometry may work just as well.

Acknowledgements The author gratefully acknowledges Dr. A. El Fiky for important comments and for careful review of earlier versions of this work, and Pot Killeen for thorough journal review.

Aitken, M.J., 1974. Physics and Archaeology, 2nd edn. Clarendon Press, Oxford.