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A Look Inside the Keck Lab


The W.M. Keck Center for Instrumental and Biochemical Comparative Archaeology is up and running. It is a unique facility, the only lab of its kind at an undergraduate institution. The lab is a collaborative effort between the chemistry and sociology-anthropology departments. Dr. George Bey and Dr. Michael Galaty of the sociology-anthropology department work in conjunction with Dr. Timothy Ward of the chemistry department on various projects throughout the year.

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Anthropology major Kailey Rocker and Classical Studies major Brandi Buckler are current Keck Fellows who worked in the field in 2010 with Dr. Galaty in Albania. Dr. Jiyan Gu, a post-doctoral fellow, and Erin Redman, a chemistry major who graduated from Millsaps in 2010, work as lab technicians alongside the Keck Fellows and professors.

The lab has been working recently on projects involving samples from Albania and Sweden. The lab has analyzed three different sets of artifacts from Albania. The first set of artifacts are bitumen-lined pot sherds from the central Albanian site of Apollonia. They were analyzed by Redman and Rocker using liquid and gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy to see whether they were used to store wine or olive oil. The bitumen lining, however, prevented the pots from absorbing any residues of what they once contained and the results were inconclusive.

The second set of artifacts were marble samples from a ruined cathedral in Elbasan, Albania. They were analyzed by Gu and Buckler using ICP mass spectroscopy to determine their place of origin. Finally, Gu and Rocker have analyzed an unusual Late Roman ceramic artifact from Byllis, Albania, that the excavator thought was a crucible for melting glass.. Analysis by ICP-MS and by x-ray diffraction indicates that it was used in the production of glaze.

The other recent project involves pot sherds from Sweden. The Swedish government allowed Buckler to bring back four pottery samples from the archive there to determine how they were used. It was previously thought that the pots were used to cook fish stew. Redman and Buckler used LCMS and GCMS to look for the fatty acids that would be present if fish had been cooked in the pots. Instead, the results indicate that the pottery was used to cook some kind of meat stew. Buckler is now working on writing an analysis of the findings and their implications for revised understandings of these artifacts.

Next, the lab will turn to analysis supporting Dr. Bey's research in Yucatán. Dr. Gu will be using the ICP-MS to find characteristic metals in pottery and soil samples. That information will then be used to track the trade routes of cherts that are thought to have been brought to a central location and distributed throughout the region. Redman will also be analyzing pots from the Yucatán using the LCMS and GCMS to look for traces of caffeine and theobromine, which would indicate that the pots were used to hold chocolate.

The lab is a great asset to the school that aids professors in their studies and allows students to get hands on experience. Redman sees a direct connection between her work in the lab and her plans for the future: "It will contribute to my success in grad school as well as being accepted because not many students - grad or undergrad - get this opportunity."