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Molecular Archaeology

The first references to this term I know of (thanks to Howard Ochman for the information) were in Scientific American and the Journal of Biological Chemistry, both in 1989.

The term is slowly becoming more widely known outside its specialist field. It is one of many cross-disciplinary techniques being applied to the study of ancient artefacts, and it is sometimes called archaeological chemistry. As that name implies, researchers apply a range of sensitive analytical tools to objects in order to identify substances once associated with them.

Our knowledge of the early history of wine has been transformed by it; analysis of residues on fragments of amphorae found in Egypt has identified commodities being traded in the area; work on pots in the tomb of the fabled King Midas have proved, among other things, that the Phrygians were drinking a punch of wine, beer and mead at his funeral.

The key to linking the differing strands of evidence may be in a new field of study called molecular archaeology.

USA Today, Jan. 1998

Patrick McGovern, a senior scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, calls his new science molecular archaeology. He used techniques from analytic chemistry and molecular biology to identify the desiccated leftovers of Midas’s funeral feast.

Guardian, Jan. 2001

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Page created 10 Feb 2001; Last updated 31 Aug 2005