College’s New X-ray Device to Probe Archeological Samples

Kathleen Blake uses Forensic X-ray Device

Kathleen Blake of SUNY Oswego’s anthropology department displays a new low-dose device that uses X-ray fluorescence technology to analyze the elements in archeological samples. The instrument, obtained via a $49,500 National Park Service grant, can analyze the elements and their proportions in a sample without destroying it.

Analyzing sharp-force trauma, studying ceramic artifacts disinterred after centuries, disclosing the trace elements in soils—SUNY Oswego forensic anthropologist Kathleen Blake can think of many uses for portable X-ray equipment purchased with a National Park Service grant.

The new instrument will enable faculty and student researchers to study samples in detail without liquefying, pulverizing or otherwise destroying them. “This device is widely used in archeological and museum studies,” Blake said.

Douglas Pippin, an assistant professor of anthropology and an archeologist, received the $49,500 grant with colleagues Paul Tomascak of the earth sciences faculty and Blake.

The device came with a pump to create a vacuum, a small on-board computer for work in the field, a tripod and other attachments. It uses X-ray fluorescence to analyze the elements and their proportions in a sample.

The researchers won the grant in conjunction with work the anthropology department is doing cataloging 160,000 Native American and other artifacts from archeological sites around the state. SUNY Oswego earlier received two grants totaling $1.5 million for work under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Blake, a visiting assistant professor, is on the research team for the NAGPRA project.

“This will be so helpful to student projects, too,” she said. “For example, what happens after burial of a deer’s leg? What can it tell us about the amount of copper laid down by the blade that cut the bone? What kind of blade was it?”

—Jeff Rea ’71

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