A glance at methods – Micromorphology
Archaeological finds are usually embedded in anthropogenic and natural sediments which accumulated during or after the occupation of caves, rock shelters or open-air sites.
The sediment properties hold intriguing information on the temporal sequence of occupations, the use of the sites and on the depositional context of each artefact found therein. Detailed macroscopic and laboratory studies of sediments by experts of natural sciences have thus become an indispensable component of modern excavations.
Micromorphological studies are needed to identify the mineral and organic components of sediments and their spatial arrangement. Sediment blocks are extracted from profiles, dried and impregnated with artificial resin. After hardening of the blocks, thin sections, about 30 µm thick, can be prepared and analyzed with the help of a polarizing microscope. In the CRC, we are currently using micromorphology to better understand the formation of such diverse archaeological sites as, for instance, Palaeolithic cave sequences in the Iberian Peninsula, Ethiopia and Egypt, Epipalaeolithic to Neolithic rock shelter sequences with shell middens in North Morocco or Neolithic settlements in loess landscapes of the Lower Rhine valley. We also apply micromorphology to unravel sediment accumulation and alteration processes in terrestrial archives at off-site archaeological excavations in order to detect events of climate and environmental change in the past.