Documenting contamination in ancient starch laboratories

Crowther, Alison, Haslam, Michael, Oakden, Nikki, Wald, Dale and Mercader, Julio (2014) Documenting contamination in ancient starch laboratories. Journal of Archaeological Science, 49 1: 90-104. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2014.04.023

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Author Crowther, Alison
Haslam, Michael
Oakden, Nikki
Wald, Dale
Mercader, Julio
Title Documenting contamination in ancient starch laboratories
Journal name Journal of Archaeological Science   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0305-4403
Publication date 2014-09-01
Year available 2014
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1016/j.jas.2014.04.023
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 49
Issue 1
Start page 90
End page 104
Total pages 15
Place of publication London, United Kingdom
Publisher Academic Press
Language eng
Subject 1204 Archaeology
1202 History
3302 Archaeology
Abstract Ancient starch analysis is an important methodology for researching ancient ecology, plant use, diet, and tool function; particularly in the deep past when other proxies may not survive. Establishing the authenticity of ancient starch is therefore a major concern for researchers. Despite decades of archaeological application, there are currently no empirically-tested procedures for systematically assessing and reducing intra-laboratory contamination. At the Universities of Oxford and Calgary, we have tested laboratory consumables, airborne contaminants, and decontamination techniques (oxidisation, boiling, autoclaving, torching) to establish contamination sources, types and quantities, as well as the most effective methods of destroying them. In our laboratories, we found that (i) contaminant starches represent a restricted range of types, (ii) many commonly used consumables including non-powdered gloves and Calgon are starch-rich, (iii) passive slide traps often used to test for airborne contaminants generate unreliable proxies and unacceptably low statistical confidence, and (iv) decontamination procedures using weak acids and bleach are largely ineffective. This collaborative study has allowed us to identify and reduce the risk of contamination and to develop better internal authenticity criteria for future ancient starch studies conducted in our laboratories.
Keyword Ancient starch research
University of Calgary
University of Oxford
Laboratory protocols
Airborne starch
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Grant ID pf100114
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Official 2015 Collection
School of Social Science Publications
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