The pre-Hispanic states of Andean South America are famous for their polychrome ceramics. They are recovered during archaeological excavations of burials, houses, palaces and temples. Ceramic vessels were used for many functions, including cooking, storage and in ritual events. In order to understand not only what ceramic vessels were used for but also how they were made, Field Museum scientists have been examining pottery production in the ancient Andes by investigating where people procured the raw clays used to make ceramic vessels.Learn more about Andean Clays
Field Museum anthropologists work to further the scientific understanding of human evolution, culture, society, and diversity through their field and collections based research. The anthropology department houses the Elemental Analysis Facility (EAF), which contains instrumentation that allows for the rapid compositional analysis of materials collected during excavations and field work conducted by our curators. Additionally, these methods of compositional analysis are revealing new information about collections that have been housed at the museum for over a century in some cases.
Archaeological Science Collections
Field Museum curator Ryan Williams and colleagues have conducted an intensive survey of basalt, rhyolite, and andesite sources in the western Titicaca basin to examine the potential for compositionally matching raw materials from these sources to archaeological artifacts, monuments, and prehistoric architecture on the Altiplano, including archaeological collections from middle Horizon archaeological sites at Taraco and Isla Esteves in the north basin and the sites of Tiwanaku, Lukurmata, and Iwawe in the south. Basalt and other fine-grained volcanic rocks were a key resource in the anLearn more about Andean Fine-grained Volcanics
Material records of pre-contact cultures include ceramics and textiles from settlements thriving between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 1300 on the Peruvian coast. These pieces came to light through the excavations of Field Museum Curators George Dorsey in the 1890's and Donald Collier in the 1940's and 50's as well as University of California anthropologist Alfred Kroeber in the 1920s.Learn more about Coastal Peru Collection
Potting was first introduced to Papua New Guinea over two thousand years ago, and remains a flourishing craft there even today. Potters on the Sepik coast of northern Papua New Guinea utilize complex paste recipes to produce their final finished ceramics, often mixing several types of clays and other materials such as beach sands (referred to as "temper") to obtain exactly the consistency and working properties that they favor. During field work on the Sepik coast between 1990 and 1997, Field Museum curator John Terrell and his colleagues collected clays and tempering materialsLearn more about New Guinean Clays
Obsidian, natural glass formed during volcanic eruptions, was an important raw material in prehistory worldwide. Obsidian was prized for tool making for a number of reasons, including its workability, sharpness, and visual appeal. Consequently, prehistoric peoples went to great lengths to obtain obsidian, often from very distant sources. For archaeologists, obsidian is a powerful tool for understanding prehistoric economy and interaction, because individual obsidian outcrops are usually spatially discrete and chemically distinct from one another. During the 1960s, arLearn more about North American Obsidian