The analytical nexus of ceramic paste composition studies: A comparison of NAA, LA-ICP-MS, and petrography in the prehispanic Basin of Mexico

Publication date: December 2016Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 76
Author(s): Wesley D. Stoner
Ceramic compositional analyses have become a common part of archaeological inference. With a multitude of techniques available, which provide the best opportunity to answer specific research questions? I define an analytical nexus of techniques to help archaeologists determine which techniques provide the most appropriate methodology for their study regions. The relation among bulk chemical (NAA), spot chemical (LA-ICP-MS), and in situ mineral (petrography) analyses are explored through ceramics sampled from different time periods across the Basin of Mexico. Spatial and temporal patterns of compositional variability are identified with respect to the cultural systems living there. While different questions require different techniques, a stable bulk signature, like that provided by NAA, acts as a closed system that sums to 100 percent of all cultural and natural variables affecting paste composition. By comparison to the bulk baseline, any other technique that focuses on a fraction of the whole will also provide information on the unknown fractions.