The Laboratory for Comparative Microarchaeology

lab_fig1 Tel. 03-6409664

Prof. Yuval Goren

Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef 

LCM Website Text

Tel. 03-6409664


*  Comparative Microarchaeology

*  Ceramic Petrography

*  Provenance Study of Clay Cuneiform Tablets

*  Micromorphology of Archaeological Sediments

*  Current Research Projects

The Optical Microscope

Comparative Microarchaeology

Microarchaeology is the study of archaeologically related materials under the microscope. This discipline focuses on the observation of minuscule occurrences in the archaeological record that are invisible to the naked eye. As in archaeology of the mega scale, microarchaeology includes aspects of fieldwork and laboratory analyses that investigate a broad spectrum of cultural and historical questions.

The Laboratory for Comparative Microarchaeology accommodates the facilities for a wide array of microarchaeological analyses. It can support studies in the fields of ceramic petrography, plaster technology studies, micromorphology of sediments, use-wear analysis of artefacts, microbotany, palynology, micropaleontology, and metallography. A new field, developed at the laboratory, is the microscopic study of clay cuneiform tablets. The laboratory is equipped with biologic, polarizing (petrographic), incident light brightfield/darkfield, phase contrast and stereoscopic microscopes. In addition, it is equipped with facilities for the production of petrologic and sedimentologic thin sections, digital microphotography and image analysis. For elemental analysis the laboratory is equipped with a highly sensitive portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) analyzer. The laboratory houses the world's largest collection of Eastern Mediterranean archaeological ceramics in thin sections comprising over 16,000 specimens and an exhibition dedicated to the history of the field microscope, including historical field microscopes of the last 250 years.

Petrography comprises the mineralogical description and analysis of stone and pottery by utilizing the techniques of optical mineralogy and petrology commonly used by earth scientists. This method is carried out to establish the origins of raw materials and, for pottery vessels, how they were fabricated. Knowing the origins of raw material helps the archaeologist establish and understand patterns of trade, manufacturing processes and even political organization. Petrography is done by examining thin-sectioned samples through a microscope. A thin slice from a vessel or a sherd is mounted on a glass slide and ground down to a thickness of 30 microns (0.03 mm). The thin section can then be viewed using a polarizing (petrographic) microscope, allowing the inclusions, (which may comprise minerals, rocks, organic material and man-made materials such as grog and slag) to be identified. The inclusions may be naturally occurring in the clay, or they may have been added intentionally by the potter as a temper to improve the properties of the clay during working, firing and subsequent use of the vessel. The texture and composition of the fabrics in a selected pottery assemblage can be characterized and sherds with similar fabrics can be grouped together. From the identification of the rock and mineral inclusions it may be possible to suggest provenance(s) for the pottery studied, by comparison with the local geology in the area where it was found, and over larger areas for exotic non-local fabrics. Information on the manipulation of the raw materials by the potter, forming techniques used in the construction of the vessels, and the conditions under which the pottery was fired may also be gained from the study of pottery thin sections.


Letter of the ruler of Ashtarot (Syria) from the Amarna archive and its view in thin section.

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At present, the Laboratory for Comparative Microarchaeology is focusing on the following research methods:


Provenance Study of Clay Cuneiform Tablets

Professor Yuval Goren

Ancient Near Eastern archives of cuneiform texts contain numerous tablets the origin of which is unknown. Letters often, but not always, contain the name and address of the sender. Moreover, the location of some ancient Near Eastern countries and towns has not yet been clearly established. Recently, The Laboratory for Comparative Microarchaeology has conducted a study that approaches the problem of locating the provenance of the Amarna, Hittite, Ugarit and Levantine tablets through mineralogical and chemical analyses of over three hundred items, now stored in museums in Berlin, London, Oxford and Paris. The system has proven reliable, and has supplied highly interesting results. At present, the same method is applied to the corpus of second and first millennia BCE cuneiform texts from the southern Levant.

The main purpose of the research project is to attempt to solve a number of historical, geographical and chronological problems relating to the documents with the help of mineralogical and chemical methods. The results of the provenance study serve in interpreting the political and economic structure of the cities concerned during the second and first millennia BCE. A secondary purpose of the project is to initiate a comprehensive collection of analyses of ancient Near Eastern tablets for the benefit of the worldwide community of scientists.

Micromorphology of Archaeological Sediments

Professor Yuval Goren

Micromorphology is the microscopic study of soils and sediments in thin section. This powerful method enables the examination of archaeological deposits in situ at the micro-scale. The thin sections are prepared from undisturbed and oriented block samples that are removed from sections and surfaces within the site. The samples are first impregnated in vacuum conditions by synthetic resin and then cut by a diamond disk saw, polished and glued to microscope carrying glasses; they are then polished again to form a thirty-micron thin section. As an extension of field observations and interpretations, micromorphology is used to make inferences concerning various depositional and post-depositional processes, and to define the nature of human activities at different parts of the site.

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Mousterian sediment from the Amud Cave, Stratum B2/6, in thin section, showing burnt bone splinters in a turbated matrix.


Current Reseach Projects 2012:

The Ellah Valley Regional Archaeological Project

Professor Yuval Goren with Professor Oded Lipschits.

This interdisciplinary study will combine the expertise of Professors Goren and Lipschits, namely on ceramic technological analyses using physical and elemental methods, as well as the excavation of a state-run large-scale ceramic production center and the study of stamped jar handles and their historical and administrative interpretation in view of the current excavations at Ramat Rachel, together with the direction of a regional archaeological project around the Ellah Valley. This will be done in an attempt to investigate the administrative and economic structure of Judah along this chronological sequence. The research will combine a comparative study of the production centers and distribution processes, with view of the typology and the technology, of the entire repertoire of Judahite stamped jars (Early and Late lmlk, Rosette, Lion, mwch, and yhwd) and contemporaneous vessels bearing private seal impressions.

The main objective of the proposed research is to study the economic and administrative history of Judah with an emphasis on political sequentially and continuity in practices carried out during the 400-year period between 732-333 BCE. This will be assisted mainly by two research tracks. The first one will concentrate on systematic laboratory-based provenience studies of stamped jars according to a detailed typology and recognition of every seal that was used to stamp the jars, in the framework of a PhD dissertation. The provenience study will include a large number of Early and Late lmlk stamped handles from all the different types, as well as the Rosette stamped handles, as discovered in sites excavated by the Institute of Archaeology of Tel-Aviv University (Lachish, Ramat Rachel, Beit-Shemesh and the Negev sites), Jerusalem and other sites, and of course from our own excavations at Tel Sochoh and Tel Azekah. The provenience study will also include most of the lion-stamped jar handles of all types (85 of the 130 were excavated at Ramat Rachel and most of the rest were excavated in Jerusalem), and 350 of the 630 yhwd stamped jars from all the different types and sub-types, (most of them from Ramat Rachel, and the rest came from Jerusalem and some other sites in Judah).

The second research track will investigate the actual workshops where the Early and Late lmlk and Rosette storage-jars were produced, through its long-term excavation over several field seasons. Our pilot survey and trial excavations at Tel Sochoh, already made by our student Yoav Tzur revealed what is most likely the so-far unknown production center of these storage-jars. The excavations of the site by Prof. Yuval Goren on behalf of the MA Program in Archaeology and Archaeomaterials, and the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, will investigate this production center, its products, modes of operation and chronology. Coupled together, these two research tracks are expected to shed new light on the administrative setting of Judah during the 8th-4th centuries BCE


(please add abstracts of the other projects you are involved with)


The Tel Sochoh Excavation

Tel Sochoh Team Pic images

Tel Sochoh is located in the Ellah Valley, it is one of the most fertile valleys in the Judean lowlands. The site is situated on the main ancient road, which crosses the valley from west to east, leading from the coastal plains to the direction of Bethlehem and the Judean hills watershed line. The mound slopes from North, West and South creating a natural fortification, to the East the site is connected by a saddle ridge to Khirbet Shuwaikah, which retains a continuation of the ancient name of Sochoh. According to the biblical text, Sochoh was one of the cities allotted to Judah, it lay between Adulam and Azekah (Joshua 15:35). Most famously Sochoh is the place where the Philistines gathered their armies to battle with King Saul and where David fought Goliath (2 Chronicles 11: 5-12).  Tel Sochoh has never been excavated, but the mound has been surveyed several times in the 19th and 20th Centuries. In 2011 Yoav Tzur conducted a systematic survey of Khirbet Abad and Khirbet Shuwaikah as his M.A. research project, under the supervision of Professors Oded Lipschits and Yuval Goren and Dr. Yuval Gadot. In order to establish the ground work for the research, a digital mapping of the site was done to get a clear plan of the site’s borders. The most significant finds from the survey included many stamped jar handles of the Iron Age II, 10 of which were of the lmlk (“of the King”) type, Judean Pillar Figurines as well as other zoomorphs. The main focus of our excavation will be on uncovering material culture which will be able to shed light on the administrative aspects of the economy of Judah throughout the 400 year period when it was under Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian rule (732-333). The archaeological and historical records supply significant information regarding the general patterns of the administration and economy in Judah between 732 and 333 BCE. At the same time, very little attention has been directed thus far to the finer details of the governmental system through the study of the modes of distribution of taxes and commodities.

The excavation at Tel Sochoh will be directed by Professor Yuuval Goren and Dr. Erez Ben Yosef of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. The project will serve as the tutorial excavation, field school and field training course of the students of the MA program in Archaeology and Archaeomaterials at Tel Aviv University. The analytical part of the study including the mineralogical and chemical analyses of the stamped jar handles will be carried out in the Laboratory for Comparative Archaeology, directed by Professor Yuval Goren.

Analysis of Iron Found Within the Slag at Timna From the Late Bronze Age

Ilana Peters (M.A. student)

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The iron may have been a deliberate product of smelting during this time, making Timna one of the earliest sources of iron production. Ilana’s goal is to determine whether the iron was a deliberate product of smelting or a by-product of the copper smelting during this era. Ilana’s thesis will be supervised by Dr. Erez Ben Yosef.

The Mechanism of Manufacture and Circulation of Pillar-type Figurines From the Kingdom of Judah During the Late Iron Age

Yoon Kook-Young (PhD candidate)

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This is done through the correlative study of typology and petrographic analysis, from which will be drawn its social, political, economic, cultural and religious implications. In this way, the study will shed a new light on the function of these figurines in Judahite society. Yoon’s supervisors are Professors Yuval Goren and Oded Lipschits.

The Systematic Survey of Khirbet Abad and Khirbet Shuwaikah

Yoav Tzur (M.A. student)

The site, otherwise known as Tel Sochoh has never been excavated, located in the Ellah Valley, of the Judean lowlands. This survey hopes to pin point the location of the ceramic production area attributed to the Judean administrative production of the LMLK jars. According to extensive petrographic analysis the production site should exist in this vicinity. In order to establish the ground work for the research a digital mapping of the site was done in order to get a clear plan of the sites borders. With The help of aerial photos the site was divided into different fields, based on the different activity areas and in consideration of the geography and the architecture of the site. The survey of each field was defined separately and the documentation of the surface finds was conducted by a group of surveys which collected every find on the surface. Toward the end of the survey 1 by 1 m and no longer than 40 cm deep test squares were opened in order to collect pottery within the top soil layer. The most significant finds from the survey were: L’MLK stamp impressions, Judean Pillar Figurines as well as other zoomorphic figurines as well as Ceramic and Iron slag, which appear to come from local workshops. Yoav is working under the supervision of Professor Oded Lipschits, Professor Yuval Goren and Dr. Yuval Gadot.

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“Khirbet Kerak Ware and The Early Transcaucasian Culture: TechnologicalBehavior as Cultural Signifier”

Mark Iserlis (PhD. Candidate.

Mark’s research focuses on the suite of technological preferences identified in Khirbet Kerak Ware, which will then be compared with those characterizing other regional expressions of the Kura-Araxes tradition. His expectation is to discover a strand of significant dispositions from the potters which could be followed from the 3rd millennium Southern Levant back to the parent traditions of 4th millennium Transcaucasia. The method of obtaining this information will come from grasping the underlying technological unity of Kuro-Araxes ceramics and their derivatives. an important step taken toward understanding the manner in which producers and consumers of this pottery maintained their identity over the vast range of habitats that they occupied in the 3rd millennium BCE. By the same token, the differences exhibited over space and time will help us to understand strategies of assimilation and acculturation practiced by these same producers and consumers. The interpretation of the technological production methods becomes an important part of the discussion concerning the nature and import of Kuro-Araxes migration, a  migration which has been linked to important technological innovations on the edge of the Fertile Crescent (metallurgy, wheeled transport, viticulture and horse breeding), as well as to important ethnic and linguistic shifts.

A Micromorphological Study of Sediments from Southern Levant PPNB Sites: Identification of Activities, their Spatial Patterning and Possible Implication on Social Structure.

Doron Boness (M.A. student)

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The Pre-Pottery Neolithic temporal sequence in the southern Levant, roughly dated to 11,500-8,500 CalBP, is widely viewed as a period of change in which partially sedentary hunter-gatherer bands were increasingly turning into a fully sedentary way of life, and to the gradual domestication of plants and animals. This process eventually culminated in the formation of sedentary agricultural communities exhibiting more complexity in their social structure. Pyrotechnology in general, and lime-plaster production in particular, is viewed as a unique manifestation of these processes, and as one of the hallmarks of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B. This study attempts to trace spatial patterning in human behavior, and especially fire-related activities, at two sites: Kfar HaHoresh in the Lower Galilee and Beisamoun in the Huleh valley. The first spans the whole Pre-Pottery Neolithic B temporal sequence while at the second, an occupation layer dated to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic C has been excavated in recent years. The interpretations of their functions also differ: while Kfar HaHoresh is interpreted by its excavator as a small regional cultic/ritualistic center serving the neighboring communities, Beisamoun is viewed as a residential village, albeit extremely large by coeval standards. By employing micromorphology as a research method it is hoped that new light would be shed on these activities, as much new data may be provided from under the microscope, invisible to the naked eye in the field. This research is supervised by Prof. Yuval Goren and Prof. Nigel Goring-Morris of The Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

The LCM Collection of Historical Field Microscopes

Link to the PPT presentation