Research Facilities and Labs

The archaeology program has a large variety of lab and field equipment available to graduate and undergraduate students to use for personal research projects. With the program’s strong training on analytical methods, these resources are an integral part of student research and learning. Students have used these resources for lithic analysis (chemical characterization and use wear), faunal analysis (isotopic studies and identification of taxa); ceramics (matrix composition and sourcing), geoarchaeology (sediment and soil analyses to determine depositional regimes), and to collect and analyze spatial data, to name just a few applications.

Much of this equipment has been obtained through the University of Washington’s Student Technology Fee (STF) program. As of 2009, we have been granted over $769,000 to purchase laboratory and field data collection equipment, making this program essential for students pursuing research using the most advanced technology available.

The archaeology equipment and facilities are managed by the Archaeology GSA. Please contact the GSA with questions and requests at archygsa@uw.edu or 206-685-6650. To see the calendar of scheduled lab time click here

Microanalysis Lab

Leica DM R Microscope: We received an STF grant in 2003 to purchase a high-powered microscope with reflected, transmitted, polarized, and filtered light capabilities with a wide range of magnifications (2.5x to 500x). Associated digital imaging equipment projects and captures images for digital preservation of images and software, and software allows for a variety of quantitative analyses. A rotatable petrographic stage and optics for the microscope were added to the setup with an STF grant in 2007 to allow for additional micromophological analyses. This microscope allows students to perform almost any type of archaeological microanalysis, including wood identification, pollen and starch analysis, use-wear on lithics, geomorphology, and ceramic composition analysis. 

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Merchantek MicroMill: A micromill was purchased with an STF grant in 2005 to allow for precision microscopic drilling of various lithic and biogenic materials for isotopic, trace elemental, and radiometric analyses. This allows students to address a variety of paleoclimatic, paleoenvironmental, and geological sourcing questions. For example, shellfish grow incrementally, and by sampling different growth layers within a single specimen can provide data on changes in the local climatic conditions that may provide insight in human-environment interactions. Teeth from some animals like deer likewise have incremental growth, and sampling within each of these may provide migration histories for the individual. Research like this requires samples of very small size, often less than .3mg, taken from very precise locations. It is affixed with a binocular microscope, video/photo capabilities, and carbide steel drilling mechanisms, as well as the necessary peripheral items, software, and computer hardware necessary for sampling operations.

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Additional Equipment: The Microanalysis Lab also has a dedicated Sartorius SE2 Ultra Micro microgram scale with a precision of 1.0 micrograms or less, and a Sartorius milligram scale attached to a PC workstation for capturing live data. This has been used with the above equipment for a variety of isotopic and residue analysis. The linear precision saw (see below under Geoarchaeology Lab) is also used in conjunction with the microanalysis equipment.

Example Research: Projects that have used this equipment include identification of firewood species used by prehistoric populations in Alaska, examination of microstructure of shellfish as a proxy for past climatic conditions, determining sources of temper added to ceramics by Southeast Asian potters, and identification of starch granules to identify camas use in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Daniels, Phoebe S. A Gendered Model of Resource Depression: A Case Study on the Northwest Coast of North America. Thesis (Ph.D.)—University of Washington, 2009.
  • West, Catherine Foster. Human Dietary Response to Resource Abundance and Climate Change. Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 2009.
  • West, Catherine Foster. Kokiak Island’s Prehistoric Fisheries: Human Dietary Response to Climatic Change and Resource Availability. Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 4(2): 223.
  • Shaw, Jennie Deo. Driftwood As a Resource : Modeling Fuelwood Acquisition in the Mid- to Late Holocene Gulf of Alaska. Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 2008.
  • Vyas, Poorvee Anil. Actions in Sequence: Application of a Modified Chaiˆne Opératoire Approach to Upper Paleolithic Assemblages from Central Portugal. Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 2005.  

Geochemical Sourcing

Bruker Tracer III-V Light Element Analyzer: In 2008, we obtained STF funds for two completely portable XRF systems. By using characteristic light emissions from x-ray stimulated materials, it can provide detailed information on elemental concentrations in a variety of materials. Archaeologists commonly use this data to match materials, such as obsidian, from sites to their geological source, and thereby elucidating exchange networks. These portable XRF systems provide the most reliable and repeatable results for the highest range of elements, and its general durability and ease in operation allow it to be used in a variety of settings. One system is dedicated to the UW campus while the second may be used at other institutions or in the field. 

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Example Research: This new equipment has already been used successfully for sourcing lithic materials in the Kuril Islands and Pacific Northwest.

Digital Research on Museum Collections

In 2009, we received an STF grant to purchase two sets of 3D scanning and portable microscopy equipment. This equipment will allow for research on collections held at other institutions that cannot be loaned due to international or preservation restrictions. In addition, it can be used to collect data in field settings when collection of artifacts is not permitted.

Qualitest DG-3 Advanced Portable Digital Microscope: This portable microscope allows for perafocal 25x to 200x zoom magnification and image capture without the physical limitations of standard, non-digital microscopes. It includes a 3.5 inch LCD viewing screen, allowing the researcher to quickly and easily identify important microscopic areas on the artifacts and quickly capture digital images. These digital microscopic images can then be stored and transported for future analysis outside of the primary museum setting.

NextEngine 3D Desktop Scanner: The 3D Laser scanner can take exact measurements of artifacts and can even be used to reconstruct the entire artifact in a relatively short amount of time. This system provides large amounts of data on the object’s shape and size at an accuracy that is comparable to more time consuming manual caliper measurements. The scanned data is easily manipulated statistically and graphically with the corresponding software.

Additional Equipment: Each set of equipment for museum research has a dedicated Dell Precision XPS M1530 laptop with Windows 64-bit operating system. Also included is a Nikon D60 10.2 MegaPixel Digital SLR Camera with a 55mm-200mm zoom lens and tripod, providing high resolution and high zoom capabilities necessary for producing high quality images of museum objects. Additional measurement equipment includes an Ohaus Scout Pro Portable Scale 2001 (weighing objects up to 2000 g), Mitutoyo Digital Calipers, a Mitutoyo 293-340 Electronic Digital Outside Micrometer, and a Mitutoyo Digital Depth Gauge, all of which are capable of digitally inputting measurement directly into a database.

Example Research: Although this set of equipment was only recently acquired, one system has already traveled to the Russian Far East to collect data on ceramic technologies by Erik Gjesfjeld.

Geoarchaeology Lab

A variety of equipment is available for geoarchaeological analyses, with recent upgrades from a 2007 STF grant. This includes equipment for conducting grain-size analysis; pH analysis; organic, carbonate, and phosphate analysis. For more information regarding the geoarchaeology program:http://faculty.washington.edu/bmarwick/geoarchaeology-program

Buehler Isomet 5000 Linear Precision Saw: This was also purchased with under the 2005 STF grant, and allows thin-sectioning geologic, anthropogenic, and biogenic material with 2µm precision. Precision sectioning of lithics, ceramics, bones, and marine organisms is necessary to acquire a suitable sampling surface of materials for radiometric, isotopic, and trace element analyses, and the precision saw is often used in combination with the micromill and high-powered microscope

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Retch Camsizer: The archaeology program has partial ownership with Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) to a Camsizer. This optically-based instrument is allows for students conducting geoarchaeology research to determine grain size to within ±1% over the range 30 µm to 30,000 µm(5φ to −5φ).

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Retch Camsizer (www.retsch-technology.com)

Thermolyne F6038CM Muffle Furnace: The Geoarchaeology lab houses two furnaces (Thermolyne 6000 and Thermolyne 4000) that are used to burning sediments and other materials at high temperatures to measure organic and carbonate loss.

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Binder APT Drying Oven: This oven is commonly used to dry sedimentological and biological samples prior to further processing, to assist in low temperature geochemical reactions, to cure epoxy-impregnated biological specimens prior to sectioning, and to encourage drying of specialized laboratory glassware in a sterile environment. Similar to the muffle furnace, a digital programmable feature will alleviate the need to make multiple trips to the lab at night to change temperature settings.

Fluke 724 Temperature Calibrator 1400: This thermal calibrator is used to monitor thermal conditions in the oven and muffle furnace.

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Bartington MS2 Meter and MS2B Dual Frequency Sensor: Together, these comprise the MS2 Magnetic Susceptibility System, used to measure the magnetic susceptibility in sediments and rocks.

Sieve Shaker (RO-TAP E CET-29-E): Combined with several sets of metric and imperial sieves, this equipment allows geoarchaeologists to calculate the relative percentage of different sized sediment grains (e.g., sand, silt, clay) to understand the depositional setting in which archaeological sites formed. This sieve shaker has a programmable timer and adjustable intensity.

Burrell Model DT Wrist-Action Flask Shaker: Similar to the sieve shaker, this automated equipment allows for shaking or mixing of flasks over long time periods.

Genie 2 Vortex G560 Vortex Mixer: This allows for the preparation of most geochemical and isotopic chemistry analyses in our lab involves thorough, rapid mixing of analytes.

Vacuum impregnation system: designed to encapsulate sample materials in an epoxy resin to facilitate preservation and sectioning of brittle or otherwise fragile materials.

Sartorius SE2 Ultra Microgram scale: In addition to the microgram scaled housed within the Microanalysis Lab.

Miscellaneous equipment:

  • glassware
  • hydrometers and pipettes for grain-size analysis
  • desiccators for drying samples
  • riffle splitter for dividing sediment samples

Example Research: The Department of Anthropology has made extensive use of the sediments lab under the direction of Drs. Julie Stein and Ben Marwick. Student research includes determining site formation processes at Pacific Northwest Coast sites, identification of animal husbandry in Hawai’i, testing the hypothesized location of Fort Clatsop, …

  • Kiers, Roger, Jennie Deo, Chris Lockwood, Scotty Moore, and Julie Stein (2003). “Earth, Wind and Fire: Subsurface Pits at Fort Clatsop.” Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 35, No. 6, September 2003, p. 228.
  • Stein, J., S. Anderson and J. Fisher (2006). Report on the Ebey’s Prairie Depositional History. Submitted in partial fulfillment of CESU contract “Native Americans and the Pacific Northwest Environment: An Interdisciplinary Study”. University of Washington.

Survey Equipment

In 2006, we received funding from STF to purchase two Sokkia reflectorless total stations for collecting spatial data at both close range and over longer distances up to 5000m at centimeter-level accuracy. Two TDS Recon data collectors are used for recording and displaying data as it is collected by the total station. Two Trimble GPS Pathfinder ProXH units that can also sync with the Recon data collectors are also regularly used by students to collect spatial data during surveys. We also have a variety of less powerful Garmin handheld units available to students for surveying. Combined with the mobile computing and power sources (below), students can use this equipment virtually anywhere. Other survey supplies include Brunton pocket transits, compasses, levels, pin flags, meter taps, an alidade, plane tables, theodolites, airphoto stereoscopes, and a resistivity meter.

Mobile Computing and Photography

Students have access to a number of laptops for both field and laboratory conditions. This includes two Panasonic Toughbook T2 laptops, two Panasonic T4 laptops, two Sony VAIO laptops, and two Itronix GoBook XR1 laptops. To support this equipment in the field, a variety of solar power source systems were also acquired. Most of these systems are equipped with GIS software. We have a wide range of digital SLR and point-and-shoot cameras, including two Sony Cybershot DSC-F828 cameras, two Sony Cybershot DSC-V1 cameras, two Nikon D90 digital SLR cameras and a variety of lenses. A variety of digital data collection equipment, such as calipers and scales that can directly input data into a computer, are also available for student research. 

Digital Archaeology Reserach (DigAR) Lab

The use of computing is crucial to a number of graduate student research projects, ranging from geographic information systems (GIS), image-processing software, statistical applications, mathematical modeling, and 3D visualization programs. These programs allow for study on human-landscape interactions, the spatial distribution of archaeological sites and artifacts within sites, and modeling cultural changes through time, and thus promotes novel approaches for understanding human behavior and promotes the use of technologies previously unknown to archaeology. High-performance computing systems obtained by a 2006 STF grant allow students to create novel simulations and sophisticated models which promise to deliver substantial results for student research. Computing stations include ArcGIS, Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS), MATLAB modeling software for algorithm prototyping and data visualization, image processing software, and 3D modeling software. High-powered workstations with a dedicated server are used for creating large visually-oriented datasets. The DigAR lab was upgraded in 2010. For more information: http://depts.washington.edu/digarlab/

Example Research: This lab has been used by students studying differential distributions of geochemical characteristics related to agriculture, interhousehold distributions of food resources in Indonesia, and settlement patterns in Eastern Washington.

Luminescence Dating Laboratory

Under the direction of Dr. Jim Feathers, this laboratory provides dating service for ceramics, lithics, and sediments using optically-stimulated luminescence (OSL) and thermoluminescence (TL). This allows researchers to date materials that cannot be dated using other techniques (e.g., lack of suitable organic remains for radiocarbon dating). Additionally, since it is capable of directly dating cultural materials such as ceramics, the bridging arguments between dating events and target events are minimized. The equipment is also capable of dating sediments in order to elucidate depositional sequences at archaeological sites. For more information: http://depts.washington.edu/lumines/

Example Research: Students have used this lab for a variety of purposes, ranging from dating ceramics from Turkey, dating building sequences at Chavin de Huantar in Peru, to dating depositional sequences of canals in Peru.

Burke Museum Archaeology

The Burke Museum houses over one million artifacts from the Pacific Rim, with an emphasis on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Students have access to the artifacts and lab space in the museum to conduct research. For more information: http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/collections/archaeology/research.php

Teaching Collections

Since archaeology is based on the material remains of the past, it is critical to have an extensive collection of material to provide students with a hands-on experience. Our teaching collection includes fauna material and comparatives, lithic raw material and artifacts, artifact reproductions and casts, botanical comparatives, experimental archaeology materials, and lab, survey, and field equipment.

Other Labs and Resources

Graduate students in the archaeology program have made use of facilities managed by other departments to conduct a range of analyses.

Burke Museum Mammalogy and Ornithology has a large collection of skeletal materials, particularly for taxa present in the Pacific Northwest and adjacent regions. Archaeologists are one of the primary users of the skeletal comparative collection, and this resource has been used extensively by students conducting faunal analysis. For more information:http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/collections/mammalogy/
http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/collections/ornithology/

IsoLab - Stable Isotope Laboratory has equipment for identifying light stable isotopes that are widely used for paleoenvironmental data in archaeology, such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. The IsoLab specializes in the analysis of light stable isotopes. For more information: http://depts.washington.edu/isolab/

Isotope Geochemistry Laboratory can identify trace elements and heavy isotopes, often used by archaeologists for geochemical sourcing. For more information: http://depts.washington.edu/isochem/

Material Science and Engineering Electron Microscope Center (EMC)This facility has three Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM) and two Transmission Electron Microscopes (TEM) that students may use for visual and characterization studies at reduced cost with training. For more information: http://depts.washington.edu/mseemc/

Material Science and Engineering User Facility:We also have free access to a thermogravimetric analyser (TGA 7), which has been used for ceramic studies for determining firing temperature. By measuring weight change in a material as a function of temperature or time, one can identify mineral decomposition at certain temperatures that the material was not exposed to during the original firing process. Students may also access to the facility’s X-ray Defraction (XRD) system (Siemens D 5000) to determine the presence of characteristic clays, also providing data on firing temperature of ceramics and other materials. For more information: http://depts.washington.edu/mseuser/index.shtml