Diversity in obsidian use in the prehistoric and early historic Middle East

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Abstract

The presence of obsidian in the Near East has always evoked a response about its exotic nature and origins. It was not until 1960s, however, that this was put onto a scientific footing when Colin Renfrew and his collaborators began to explore obsidian in Turkey and the Mediterranean. Their characterisation of the sources allowed them to attribute artefacts to different sources and suggest models of dispersal and distribution. Since then considerably more artefacts have been attributed to sources, although mostly only small numbers from individual sites. This has led to various interpretations of how obsidian was obtained and used; new studies have considered least cost path analysis, network analysis and agent based modelling. Increasingly, new methods of provenancing of artefacts have also meant that large number of artefacts can be analysed relatively speedily and efficiently. Portable instruments allow data to be collected outside laboratories, avoiding restrictions imposed by export licenses or simplifying work on museum collections. Here we employ richness and diversity indexes to elucidate some of the patterns in obsidian source use and argue that there are several reasons why the provenancing of large proportions of assemblages will be critical in exploiting the true potential of obsidian studies in the Near East, even though the initial haphazard, small sample approach has been quite effective in sketching out the big picture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-154
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary International
Volume468
Early online date10 Nov 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2018

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