Weizmann and Max Planck Join Forces in Hi-Tech Archaeology Center

Plaster from human dwellings or the signs of a long-abandoned animal enclosure? Tuesday's New York Times describes the collaboration between a chemist - structural biologist Prof. Steve Weiner, who is head of the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute - and American archaeologists. From China to the nearby site of biblical Gath, Weiner and his team have been applying the methods of advanced chemistry to solving riddles of the ancient world. (The answer, at least for the dig at Ashkelon, is fecal and decayed plant matter, meaning the apparent palace was really a stable.)


But even as that article appeared, hi-tech archaeology at the Institute was getting kicked up a fairly large notch. On Wednesday, the presidents of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science and the Weizmann Institute, Profs. Peter Gruss and Daniel Zajfman, signed an agreement to open a new center for collaborative archaeology research. The research will be carried out at the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Among the technological wonders that will be used to reveal the microscopic finer points of relics from pottery to teeth will be a big-ticket piece of equipment that is being constructed especially for the purpose and is slated to be installed in a physics facility sometime this year. This accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) can be used for radiocarbon dating with an accuracy of a few tens of years; and it can pick out one carbon atom in a quadrillion (ten to the 15th). According to Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto, the Kimmel Center's radiocarbon dating expert, it will be able to accurately date a single lentil or grain of wheat.

Other research will make use of Weiner's experience in investigating modern materials - specifically teeth. His studies of the microstructure of modern human teeth have revealed how they stand up to the daily pressures of chewing. Now, similar analyses will be used to examine the evolution of teeth in our nearest ancestors.


More like this

Last month we reported on the first people who, around twelve thousand years ago, were lining their loved ones’ graves with flowers. This month, we have a piece on the “extinct” frog that was “resurrected” and then discovered to be a living fossil. Both of these studies were led by Israeli…
20 years ago, radiocarbon dating was transformed by the widespread adoption of AMS analysis, accelerator mass spectroscopy. Willard Libby's original scintillation-counting method demanded large sample sizes and a lot of time per sample. The sample size meant that many interesting things couldn't be…
In a stunning finding, scientists found evidence in northern Spain of cannibalism by Neanderthals. Some 1,800 bone fragments were used for DNA analysis to support their hypothesis. According to The New York Times report, Spanish scientists who analyzed the bones and DNA report the gruesome…
A few days ago, the heads of several Israeli academic institutes, including Weizmann Institute of Science President Prof. Daniel Zajfman, met with Israel’s president, Reuben Rivlin to discuss the possible effects of an academic boycott. Afterward, Prof. Zajfman was interviewed on the evening…

A bit off topic but that looks like a pretty nice office that that researcher has. Plenty of fresh air, Nice views (perhaps) all around, close to their "lab". Near ideal, I suppose, unless it rains or a dust storm.

(written from my 10X10 cubicle with no windows and drafty HVAC in the dead of winter.)

By David Utidjian (not verified) on 11 Jan 2012 #permalink

Well, I prefer the office in the picture, although excavations are mostly donein Israel during July, and the heat then makes you sometime wish to be some place else...

By Lior Regev (not verified) on 15 Jan 2012 #permalink

Thanks, I've recently been looking for info about this topic for ages and yours is the best I have discovered so far. But, what about the bottom line? Are you sure about the source?