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An integrated approach to the taxonomic identification of prehistoric shell ornaments
Demarchi, B.; O'Connor, S.; de Lima Ponzoni, A.; de Almeida Rocha Ponzoni, R.; Sheridan, A.; Penkman, K.; Hancock, Y.; Wilson, J. (2014). An integrated approach to the taxonomic identification of prehistoric shell ornaments. PLoS One 9(6): e99839.
In: PLoS One. Public Library of Science: San Francisco. ISSN 1932-6203, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Authors  Top 
  • Demarchi, B.
  • O'Connor, S.
  • de Lima Ponzoni, A.
  • de Almeida Rocha Ponzoni, R.
  • Sheridan, A.
  • Penkman, K.
  • Hancock, Y.
  • Wilson, J.

    Shell beads appear to have been one of the earliest examples of personal adornments. Marine shells identified far from the shore evidence long-distance transport and imply networks of exchange and negotiation. However, worked beads lose taxonomic clues to identification, and this may be compounded by taphonomic alteration. Consequently, the significance of this key early artefact may be underestimated. We report the use of bulk amino acid composition of the stable intracrystalline proteins preserved in shell biominerals and the application of pattern recognition methods to a large dataset (777 samples) to demonstrate that taxonomic identification can be achieved at genus level. Amino acid analyses are fast (< 2 hours per sample) and micro-destructive (sample size <2 mg). Their integration with non-destructive techniques provides a valuable and affordable tool, which can be used by archaeologists and museum curators to gain insight into early exploitation of natural resources by humans. Here we combine amino acid analyses, macro-and microstructural observations (by light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy) and Raman spectroscopy to try to identify the raw material used for beads discovered at the Early Bronze Age site of Great Cornard (UK). Our results show that at least two shell taxa were used and we hypothesise that these were sourced locally.

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