From Inkan ceramics to Phoenician shipwrecks

A collection of Chilean ceramics, including some from the famous Inkan Empire, will be analysed by a team of Flinders researchers. Photo by Catherine Bland.
A collection of Chilean ceramics, including some from the famous Inkan Empire, will be analysed by a team of Flinders researchers. Photo by Catherine Bland.

Ancient ceramic artefacts from the famous Inkan Empire are among a collection of pottery that will be analysed by a team of Flinders University archaeologists and collaborating researchers.

The project will examine the elemental composition of various ceramic samples from Caleta Vitor, a site in northern Chile, from a period spanning 3,500 years ago to the present day.

The study is the fourth grant awarded to Dr Amy Roberts, a senior lecturer in the Flinders Archaeology Department, by the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (AINSE) to support her research in the region.

Dr Roberts said the ceramics will be analysed by a method known as neutron activation analysis (NAA); which provides information on the concentrations of elements such as aluminium and iron contained in the samples.

The information, she said, will enable the research team to gain valuable insights into patterns of ceramic production and trade.

“Inka ceramics were traded all over the Empire but local ceramicists used to copy their style, which shows the power and influence of the Inkan Empire,” Dr Roberts said.

“Without the use of neutron activation analysis we’d just be guessing who made the ceramics because what might look like an Inkan ceramic could have been made locally,” she said.

“Analysing the types and quantities of elements in the samples will allow archaeologists to consider broader questions relating to cultural changes, including the interaction of the local Chilean population with the powerful Inkan State.”

Dr Roberts said the latest AINSE grant will support the involvement of a Flinders PhD candidate, Catherine Bland, who is working on the project along with Professor Calogero Santoro from the CIHDE research institute in Chile, Dr Rachel Popelka-Filcoff from Flinders University, Chris Carter from the Australian National University and Dr John Bennett from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), who will be carrying out the NAA experiments.

Fellow Archaeology Department researchers Mark Polzer and Dr Wendy van Duivenvoorde have also received a new AINSE grant to determine the exact age of cargo found in a shipwreck from the ancient Phoenician civilization in Spain’s Bajo de la Campana using radiocarbon dating, as part of a collaborative project with ANSTO’s Dr Geraldine Jacobsen.

The cargo recovered from the vessel – which is the only Phoenician shipwreck fully excavated and studied in the world – includes an assortment of raw materials and finished goods.

Precise dating of the collection will confirm the age of certain pottery materials and bronze works in the ship’s cargo, which are currently in doubt, and provide an important chronological marker for Phoenician colonisation in the Western Mediterranean.

Flinders Professor Diana Glenn, Dean of Humanities and Creative Arts, said the funding reflects the depth and diversity of significant international projects being conducted by the University’s Archaeology Department.

“The latest AINSE funding success by staff in Archaeology demonstrates their ongoing commitment to high calibre, collaborative, international research activity,” Professor Glenn said.

Flinders University AINSE Councillor, Associate Professor Claire Lenehan, said: “AINSE provides funds to assist researchers from member universities and institutions to gain access to the national facilities at ANSTO and other AINSE facilities. AINSE plays an indispensable role in supporting our cooperative research effort by providing universities with access to major scientific facilities that would otherwise be unavailable to researchers.”

For more details on AINSE research projects and funding rounds visit the AINSE website. More information on ANSTO can be found here.

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