Archaeological chemistry featured at American Chemical Society symposium, March 26-27

ATLANTA — When analytical chemistry is applied to archaeological problems, scientists gain new insights into historical events and cultural practices. Archaeological chemistry will be featured during a two-day symposium, "Archaeological Chemistry: Analytical Techniques and Archaeological Interpretation," March 26-27, at the 231st national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society. Selected topics are described below. All presentations in this symposium take place at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Sunday, March 26

Violent origin of Peruvian trophy heads identified — Archaeologists have wondered for some time whether 1,500 year-old trophy heads found at the Wari site of Conchopata in central Peru were venerated ancestors of local people or non-local victims of warfare or raiding. Using strontium isotope analysis of human tooth enamel and bone from five Conchopata trophy heads, researchers at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., have found that these heads came from a greater variety of different geologic zones than those buried in ancient tombs in the area. This implies that the trophy heads were victims of warfare or raiding and were not local ancestors, the researchers say. (NUCL 14, Sunday, March 26, 1:00 p.m., Room C108)

Corn cultivated in South America earlier than previously thought — First domesticated in Mexico, corn is now one of the most important food crops in South America. Using stable isotope analysis, anthropologists at the University of South Florida in Tampa have identified and quantified chemical markers of corn among ancient human remains taken from sites throughout South America. Based on this analysis, they conclude that corn was cultivated in South America earlier than previously thought. (NUCL 15, Sunday, March 26, 1:20 p.m., Room C108)

Biblical coin-makers were pretty good chemists, study says — "Widows mites" refer to the low-value copper coins minted in Biblical times that have now come to symbolize, based on New Testament scripture, a small contribution by someone who has little. Researchers at the University of Detroit Mercy have analyzed 36 of these small coins and found that they have surprisingly consistent chemical composition for ancient coinage. The finding shows that Judean coin makers were skilled chemists with high standards when it came to their metallurgical craftsmanship, the scientists say. (NUCL 23, Sunday, March 26, 4:20 p.m., Room C108)

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The American Chemical Society — the world’s largest scientific society — is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.


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