Oregon State University

Research Dr. Leach Minc

 Archaeometry (Materials Science in Archaeology)

Compositional analyses of archaeological materials play a significant role in the investigation of past human behavior and ancient economies. Through trace-element characterization of artifacts, raw materials, human remains, and botanical samples, archaeologists are able to address a host of questions concerning resource utilization, trade and exchange, subsistence practices, and the environmental adaptations of past cultures.

At OSU, we’re fortunate to have ready access to the premier method of trace-element characterization - Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA). I head the INAA program at the Radiation Center (OSU-RC) and serve as liaison to researchers using irradiation facilities and detector instrumentation. I also have an active research program in archaeometry and compositional analysis, through collaboration with faculty researchers at OSU and other academic institutions. Recent and on-going projects include analyses of Colonial-era bricks from Maryland, Aztec ceramics from central Mexico, chert from Idaho, and obsidian from Armenia.

Political Economy and Exchange in Early Complex Societies

One key application of trace-element data is in monitoring how raw materials and finished goods circulated in prehistory. Archaeologists can “source” artifacts from their trace-element signature or fingerprint. Once finished artifacts have been linked in their geographic point of origin, mechanisms of trade and exchange, political geography, and social controls over the circulation of goods can be modeled based on the distribution of artifacts from that source.

I am particularly interested in the development of market exchange systems, and the role of elites in regulating market exchange in early states. Although we tend to characterize market exchange as a purely commercial activity, elites frequently intervened in the “commercial sector” to promote their own agenda. Research on market exchange is on-going in three areas: the core of the Aztec empire, the early Zapotec state in central Oaxaca, and the Bronze Age states of Armenia. In each case, key questions include: What mechanisms existed to regulate access to and control over the flow of goods? And, how did these controls affect the decisions of individual producers and consumers?

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