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Title: The analysis and interpretation of lipid residues associated with prehistoric pottery : pitfalls and potential : a study by gas chromatography and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry of organic residues from Neolithic and later pottery from sites on the island of Sanday, Orkney, U.K.
Author: Bonfield, Katherine Mary
ISNI:       0000 0004 2699 0794
Awarding Body: The University of Bradford
Current Institution: University of Bradford
Date of Award: 1997
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This study applies the techniques of Gas Chromatography and combined Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectromctry to residues on prehistoric pottery assemblages from recent excavations on Sanday, Orkney. The site of Pool provides a well stratified Neolithic assemblage, spanning the problematical transition from "Unstan" to "Grooved Ware". However, the poor preservation of pottery and organics at the site raises issues of the survival of lipid residues in such pottery, and the specific problems of their analysis. This study shows that lipid residues do survive in such material, although it was not possible to identify the origin of most residues due to poor preservation, contamination, and the lack of detailed studies simulating the degradation of archaeological lipids. Although the practical problems associated with analysing such poorly preserved lipid residues prevented detailed conclusions being drawn about patterns of vessel use, changes in such use over time, or the exploitation of specific natural resources by prehistoric communities in the Orkneys, more limited conclusions were possible. This investigation therefore examines the relationship between visible carbonised deposits and residues absorbed into the fabric of the pot, the chemical composition of residues arising from non-food sources. such as sooting, and the possibility of identifying foods such as plants which are poorly represented in the archaeological record by identification of residues as plant waxes. The results of the residue analysis tend to confirm that the "Grooved Ware" assemblage from Pool was domestic in character, with no evidence for the use of specific types of pot for particular purposes. No firm identifications of the origin of lipid residues were achieved, but the suggestion that one or more residues may represent degraded dairy products, either used as food or possibly as a sealant for porous vessels, demands further investigation. The chemical analysis of trace quantities of organic materials preserved in archaeological contexts has developed greatly over recent years, as modern sophisticated techniques derived from analytical chemistry and biochemistry have been applied to such remains. However, there has been little critical assessment of various aspects of the analysis, including the selection of samples, the effects of differential preservation and contamination, and the methods for identifying the origins of residues. This study aims to consider these issues. In the case of poorly preserved pottery, although lowv levels of surviving lipid and contamination from the burial environment, the excavation process and the analysis caused serious problems in interpreting the residues, the greatest limiting factor in interpretation is the lack of clear understanding of the processes occurring in residues during their formation and during burial.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available