Studies involving artifact provenance (or geographic source) are the most common application of trace-element studies in archaeology.

The Provenance Principle:

 

Every raw material source has a unique geochemical signature that allows us to identify artifacts made from that source based on their elemental composition.

 

 

Geochemical signature or fingerprint = Unique combination of trace elements.

 

Success in applying the Provenance Principle depends on:

 

1. Geographic distribution: point source or regional?

 

2. Character of raw material source: homogeneous or heterogeneous?

 

3. Scale of variability: discrete or clinal?

 

Two very different materials - obsidian and ceramics - illustrate the challenges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oregon State University Archaeometry Lab