Focus: Gems and Minerals

Focus: Gems and Minerals

The collaborative efforts of The Field Museum, The Grainger Foundation, and countless others have resulted in a gem collection that has grown to become a national treasure in its own right.

    prheck's picture
    Philipp Heck
    Robert A. Pritzker Associate Curator for Meteoritics and Polar Studies and Head, Robert A. Pritzker Center
    Integrative Research Center

Focus: Gems and Minerals Collections

Andean Clays

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.

Andean Fine-grained Volcanics

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 an

New Guinean Clays

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 materials

North American Obsidian

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, ar