Researchers in the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History’s (MPI-SHH) Department of Archaeology are pioneering new frontiers in archaeological science, in both laboratory and field settings. The Department’s research agendas are multidimensional and combine traditional archaeological practice with several fields including biogeochemistry, lipidomics, and palaeoproteomics, and geographically span across six continents and dozens of countries. The discoveries being made by Max Planck personnel and their collaborators are clarifying some of the least understood aspects of humanity’s past over the last two million years. To accomplish this, we utilize eight, multi-functional laboratory facilities designed specifically for archaeological science, and have a strong focus on the identification of diagnostic biomolecules and the stable isotope analysis of bulk samples and specific compounds. Our laboratories possess state-of-the-art equipment and are already amongst the leading laboratories globally for biomolecular and environmental archaeology.
However, none of these scientific pursuits would be possible without a strong network of external collaborations. This collaborative network connects us at MPI-SHH with research institutes and scientists in Asia and Africa, North and South America, and other European organizations. While many of partners involved in these collaborations are highly funded world-class facilities, not every research institute has equal access to funding or equipment. It is an express goal of all of the archaeological science specialists in the Department of Archaeology to help in knowledge engagement, especially in areas where the means of accessing scientific resources may be limited. The annual International Applications of Archaeological Science workshop is one of the ways these scholars are contributing to this goal and acknowledging the fact that their success rests on international collaborations and partnerships.
In 2018 and 2019, the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History hosted intensive, invitation-only, one-week workshops on the International Applications of Archaeological Sciences (IAAS). These workshops were designed specifically for students and other early career researchers from around the world and provided crash-course training sessions in modern methods of the archaeological sciences. The goal was not just to train the participants in the course, but to send skills and knowledge back to regional institutes and provide long-term opportunities for attendees and spark enthusiasm for the exploration and application of diverse archaeological science methods. In both years, more than 15 members of the department’s scientific community including technicians, group leaders, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students, provided training sessions that included both hands-on experience as well as group discussions and seminars.
The workshop provided training and tutorials in a series of archaeological science approaches that have international applicability. The workshop covered a variety of methods, including quantitative lithics analyses, Geographical Information Systems approaches, ancient proteomics, ZooMS, stable isotope analysis, both micro and macroscopic methods in archaeobotany, morphological identifications in archaeozoology, human osteology, chronological methods and models, and statistical analysis. Organized trips and tours of local prehistory museums and archaeological sites were also integrated into the program in 2019. The workshop was a rewarding experience for both the participants and the instructors.
In light of our departments goals and the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic that prevented us from assembling for intensive 2020 and 2021 workshops, the MPI-SHH is launching a virtual IAAS resource! The IAAS virtual resource will bring videos and tutorials highlighting emerging methods in archaeological science that address a wide range of research questions concerning human evolution, the domestication of plants and animals, dispersal and displacement of people, and others topics and themes. All videos will be freely available for viewing to anyone around the world with the hope that this resource will remove limitations to accessing training in area-defining methodologies in the archaeological sciences.
Sign up to receive updates on the methodologies, protocols, and instrumentation being utilized within the MPI-SHH and to learn more about the Department of Archaeology’s research using the organic and inorganic components of a range of materials, including bone, teeth, dental calculus, ceramics, charred and uncharred plant remains, coprolites, residues, and sediments from archaeological and paleoanthropological contexts.