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