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Student and Faculty Author Article in Journal of Archaeological Science

By Nathan Goodale, Anthropology
Posted January 16, 2010
Tags Anthropology Student Research
Heather Otis '10, Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nathan Goodale, and Ken Bart, director of the microscopy and imaging facility, published an article, "Sickle blade life history and the transition to agriculture: A case study from Southwest Asia," in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The article appeared online on Dec. 21 and will be published in the March issue of the journal. The study examines the importance of sickle technology during the transition to agriculture in the Middle East at an early Neolithic community occupied circa 11,500 years ago in Jordan.

This topic has had considerable debate due to the fact that sickle blades are fairly uncommon within stone tool assemblages yet at the same time the very first purpose built grain storage structures are invented and used quite extensively. The authors developed an experiment in order to provide a proxy for the number of hours prehistoric sickle blades had been used to harvest cereal grains.

Otis conducted the experiment by making a sickle which incorporated hafting stone blades into a wooden handle. She then cut wheat stalk for 16 hours, removing a stone blade every other hour as representative of specific cutting time intervals. The authors then compared the experimental sickle blades with 17 archaeological blades, measuring blade edge thickness under the scanning electron microscope as a proxy for cutting time.

The results indicate that the archaeological blades were used far more extensively that the experimental blades. This suggests the potential for the extensive use of a limited number of sickle blades and that these tools were very important to the people who made and used them in prehistory.

The study initiated as a class project for Otis in Arch 325: Analytical Methods in Archaeology in 2007. She continued working on the project as an independent study and with a Summer Science research grant.

The Journal of Archaeological Science is one of the foremost journals in the world for archaeology.

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