From ABC Science
Synchrotron probes Egyptian beads
Tuesday, 18 May 2010 Dani Cooper
That is the conclusion an Australian team has drawn by using synchrotrons to analyse the synthetic turquoise that was popular during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten around 1300BC. (Photo: Women could have made synthetic turquoise beads like these in home bread ovens, say researchers (Source: Australian Institute of Archaeology/Mark Eccleston)
Archaeologist Dr Mark Eccleston will outline his findings at the Melbourne Museum in a lecture tomorrow as part of National Archaeology Week.
Eccleston says Egyptian 'faience', a fine-glazed quartz ceramic of distinct turquoise colour, was a common material used in items ranging from simple beads to religious artefacts.
He says while it was known that larger factories were used to produce the faience, his research has shown less prestigious pieces could also have been produced in ovens in household courtyards.
"There is an increasing amount of evidence that work was done in the home to provide extra income for the household," says Eccleston, from La Trobe University in Melbourne.
"Large state industries were effectively sub-contracting labour and the household would get something in return, for example more food."
Eccleston says that because women did work in the home, he believes these cottage-type industries were undertaken by women, and possibly even children.
Among the evidence he points to is artefacts made from faience that have been found in household courtyards. Eccleston has also shown that faience can be 'cooked' at home by demonstrating this in a replica 1300BC bread oven.
"People said you couldn't make a bread oven that hot, but we showed you could," he says.
Eccleston says faience remains "an enigmatic" material to archaeologists as little is known about how and by whom it was made and exactly what materials it was created from.
In his project with La Trobe University physicist Dr Peter Kappen, Eccleston has placed small faience beads in a synchrotron beam to determine the raw materials, and from where those materials were sourced.
He says the synchrotron can reveal levels of detail never before possible about the structure of raw materials used to make ancient glazes and the minerals used to colour them.
"By being able to tell where these raw materials were sourced, we'll be able to answer other questions about the economy of trade in bronze and metals, how industries were set up and how materials were distributed throughout society for different purposes," says Eccleston.
He says the work has shown the copper is barely present in the glaze, which raises questions about the method of its extraction.
"It may be they were leaching copper out of bits of metal in some solution," says Eccleston.
The collaborators will now test a number of solutions, including urine, to see if a similar result can be achieved.
"We know copper was used, but it is like trying to replicate a chocolate cake," says Eccleston. "You know it is chocolate, but what type of chocolate? Is it 85% Lindt or Cadbury dairy milk?"
Eccleston says they aim to replicate the creation of faience in the laboratory using a mineralised solution. He says they will then compare this with ancient faience, to see if they have found the right recipe.
Eccleston says the aim of their study is to demonstrate the success of the technique in the hope of accessing artefacts in the Berlin museum from Akhenaten's capital Amarna, excavated by German archaeologists about a 100 years ago.