The Skalk article I mentioned the other day (with the rubber goat) tells the story of an unusual find made in northernmost Jutland in the summer of 2005. Peter Jensen was stripping some land of topsoil for gravel extraction when, from the vantage point of his machine, he spotted something interesting on the ground. Jensen happens to have much experience of machine operation at archaeological digs. It turned out that he had managed to identify a pit in the subsoil filled with thousands of amber beads: an Early Neolithic votive deposit datable around 3500 cal BC.
Most votive amber deposits have been found in wetlands where the amber is often very well preserved. In this case, however, the pit was dug into gravel, and the amber was in very poor shape: in fact, falling to pieces. After Jensen called in the archaeological cavalry, the deposit was wrapped in plaster and taken indoors. What were my Danish colleagues supposed to do with a six-litre volume of crumbling amber? Taking it apart and trying to stabilise every individual bead would take ages and cost an enormous amount of money. And in its corroded state, the find still wouldn’t be much fun to see for the museum visitors. Still, archaeologists wanted to now what kind of beads were in the deposit.
The conservators at the National Museum then had a bright idea. They took the soil block to a forensics lab, where the whole thing was run through a CT scanner with a 0.5 mm slice distance. Presto: they now have an exact 3D model of the deposit showing every individual bead, and they have abandoned all thoughts of taking the block apart. Notably, the find contains several bead spacers, bar-shaped gadgets with six or seven holes intended to collect the separate bead strings of a large amber pectoral.
And guess whom we have to thank for all this? Messrs Lennon & McCartney! Explains Wikipedia: “The CT scanner was ‘the greatest legacy’ of The Beatles, with the massive profits resulting from their record sales enabling EMI to fund scientific research, including into computerised tomography.”
The National Museum in Copenhagen has put a lot of information on the find on-line, including video clips where the viewer travels horizontally or vertically through the deposit, a few CT slices at a time from one end to the other. Cool stuff!
Bech, Jens-Henrik. 2008. Ravfangst. Skalk 2008:1. Højbjerg.
[More blog entries about archaeology, amber, Denmark, stoneage, Neolithic, ctscan; arkeologi, bärnsten, Danmark, neolitikum, stenåldern.]