Research facilities

The Department of Archaeology is home to a state-of-the-art range of scientific research facilities that complement the different active research clusters.

Students using a piece of scanning equipment in the labs

While primarily designed for use by the department's research staff, many of these facilities are integral parts of our innovative, research-led teaching.


Archaeomaterials

We have a number of dedicated archaeomaterials laboratories where staff and students are able to experimentally recreate and carry out scientific analysis of archaeological materials. These include a dedicated archaeomaterials teaching laboratory, thin sectioning equipment for ceramics, equipment for the mounting and polishing of glass and metal samples, and thin section microscopes.

Ceramics and lithics laboratory

In this laboratory staff and students manufacture and analyse petrographic thin sections. The thin sections are examined using polarising microscopy and it is possible to answer questions about provenance and manufacturing technology. The laboratory houses an extensive geological reference collection and ceramics thin section collections, which are used to gain an understanding of the mineralogical inclusions of archaeological pottery.

With a potters’ wheel, kiln and a range of potters’ tools, it is possible to experiment with pottery forming and firing of experimental vessels. By producing and analysing thin sections of experimental pottery, staff and students gain insights into the methods of manufacture and how to identify them in archaeological material.

Associated with these laboratories are a dedicated microscope laboratory housing research-grade microscopes and a furnace room containing low-temperature ovens, pottery kilns and high-temperature furnaces for manufacturing metals and glasses. Two dedicated preparation laboratories allow the preparation of samples for analysis; one houses a dedicated fume cupboard rated for strong acid use.

Glass and metals laboratory

The glass and metals laboratories house a range of equipment, including furnaces, low-temperature ovens, lapping wheels, and saws. Here staff and students experimentally recreate archaeological glasses and metals, and can then prepare analytical samples of both archaeological and experimental materials.

Samples are analysed in-house using a range of reflected and transmitted light microscopes, and through analytical equipment such as Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM) housed nearby. The analysis allows for the manufacturing technologies employed by past societies to be investigated.

Archaeobotany

We have a dedicated archaeobotany research area, which includes a variety of advanced microscopes for various forms of archaeobotanical research. These include stereoscopes, polarised light microscopes for pollen slides, and motorised microscopes for capturing three-dimensional imagery of plant remains. Equally important facilities are the department's extensive plant reference collections including functional ecology, wild seed and crop reference collections.

Facilities within The Sheffield Centre for Archaeobotany and Ancient Land-Use

The Sheffield Centre for Archaeobotany and Ancient Land-Use has state of the art facilities for laboratory analysis and interpretation of archaeobotanical and geoarchaeological material.

Within the archaeobotany laboratory, it is possible to study charred seeds, wood charcoal, pollen, phytoliths, and starch. Our extensive seed reference collection contains a wide range of Near Eastern and European wild plants and is particularly focused on the old world crop assemblage. We also have a modern charred wood reference collection, a large pollen collection, and phytolith and starch collections. In tandem with modern reference collections, we have an up to date archaeobotany library with the key identification manuals and technical books for each type of plant remain.

Within the centre we have microscopes and equipment suited to a range of archaeobotanical analyses. There is a range of Leica stereomicroscopes in the centre for the analysis of plant macro-remains. For wood charcoal research we have a darkfield Meiji MX microscope. There are a number of transmitted light microscopes suitable for pollen and others with polarising capabilities for starch and phytolith work. For all types of plant remains the centre has image analysis equipment suitable for publication-quality photography.

Associated with the main archaeobotany lab we have a chemical lab equipped for pollen, phytolith and starch sample preparation. We also have ovens for experimental work on artificial charring and the material for the functional ecological study of plants.

As part of the centre there is a separate functional plant ecology reference collection with herbarium specimens, leaf impressions, seeds, and an ecological database.

Within the University there are SEM facilities and the possibility for plant growing experiments through co-operation with relevant departments.

Zooarchaeology

We own substantial laboratories for zooarchaeological research and teaching. In addition to the facilities and equipment, the zooarchaeology lab houses the extensive Tony Legge modern reference collection. This collection greatly facilitates all the activities undertaken by members of the lab, whether those involve research, teaching or consulting.

Contact the lab at zooarchlab@sheffield.ac.uk

The zooarchaeology laboratory and teaching

The staff of the zooarchaeology laboratory are much involved in teaching activities. In particular we provide zooarchaeology teaching as part of the 3rd year undergraduate module in Archaeozoology, and the zooarchaeology modules of the MSc programmes in Osteoarchaeology and Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomy.

One part of our reference collection is specifically dedicated to teaching and consists of a collection of modern and archaeological specimens, organised by body part, taxon, and other characteristics (butchery marks, gnawing, pathology etc). A collection specifically focussed on a user-friendly layout of individual teeth is currently available. Tooth identification, a difficult task for students to master, becomes much easier with the aid of a clearly labelled and laid out collection of isolated teeth of the most common species found in archaeological sites.

The teaching collection represents an essential tool for our lectures and practical sessions for both undergraduates and postgraduate students. Besides the routine use of the collection for teaching, every year the teaching and research collections are extensively used by students who undertake undergraduate, masters, or PhD dissertations in zooarchaeology.

Osteology

The Sheffield Osteology Lab was established in 1972 by eminent surgeon Judson Chesterman, and has since earned an international reputation in bioarchaeology. The lab has an extensive human skeletal reference collection for primatology and human ostealogy, comprising archaeological human bone, modern primates, teaching grade casts of modern humans and fossil hominids, and a series of longitudinal and transverse human and faunal bone thin sections.

We benefit from four dedicated lab facilities specific to the teaching of primate and human skeletal analysis including both lecture/practical spaces and research areas. On site, we also have a cutting-edge imaging suite (complete with photographic and x-ray equipment, and 3D scanning facilities), wet labs and a dedicated histology lab, plus facilities for human dissection via collaboration with the Faculty of Science.

These facilities are available to all students and staff whether as part of our taught courses, research degrees or on-going research projects. We are also happy to receive requests for access from external researchers.

The Sheffield Osteology Lab research and teaching

Our research drives forward understanding of primate and human anatomy across time and space, and the importance of situating these in a broader context through archaeological and multidisciplinary study of topics such as funerary practice, palaeoenvironment and palaeoeconomy.

Past and present staff and students have made significant contributions to the development of methods for the assessment of age at death in humans and the inference of subsistence patterns from primate teeth; the study of skeletal remains to address themes such as health, disease and disability and primate mating strategies; and fieldwork projects across the world. Our current staff specialise in the analysis of all major forms of biological anthropological evidence: modern primates, extinct hominins, anatomically modern humans up to the present day and animals, both ancient and modern.

We provide teaching in areas such as evolutionary and human anatomy and funerary archaeology, alongside fundamental training in subject-specific method and theory. We integrate human osteology and palaeoanthropology into teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Microscopy and Imaging Lab

Funded through a generous donation from a graduate of the department, Peter Glover, the Glover Laboratory for Digital Osteology provides high-resolution surface scanning and digital radiography facilities that are used for investigating skeletal remains and for capturing three-dimensional images of archaeological artefacts.

The laboratory has two 3D3 portable structured light scanners for capturing high-resolution three-dimensional surface models of bones and teeth as well as an Aribex Nomad Pro portable digital radiography set. Images captured with the scanning equipment are analysed on a dedicated Apple Mac Pro computer running a suite of 3D analysis software including Avizo, Geomagic Wrap and EVAN Toolbox.


Kiln Laboratory for Landscape Archaeology

A generous donation from Robert Kiln led to the founding of the Robert Kiln Laboratory for Landscape Archaeology. This provides a dedicated space for landscape archaeology research, including computing facilities for Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The laboratory houses an extensive collection of aerial photography images and maps and large-scale scanner equipment.

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