What's under the carpet? - Lived spaces and live residues. The integration of microarchaeological methodologies for a definition of spaces at Arslantepe (Malatya, Turkey).


Priv.-Doz. Mag. Dr. Erich Draganits (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences)

Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Michael Doneus (University of Vienna)

In my PhD project, I investigate the built environment through a deposit-oriented approach, specifically by means of microscopic material traces and fabrics that constitute the archaeological deposits. By analysing the composition and spatial distribution of these elements, the aim is to reconstruct actions, events and behaviours that led to their formation and consequently acquire a more detailed understanding of the investigated structures.

The case study of my research are the public buildings of Arslantepe, a tell-site located in South-eastern Anatolia, at the crossroads of the main civilizations of the Near East, and with a very long and complex occupation that spans from the 5th millennium BCE to the Byzantine period (Frangipane 2011). During the 4th millennium BCE, a clear process towards the formation of a centralised political and economic system can be observed at the site, and the monumental public buildings arising in this period are both expression and reproduction mean of these dynamics. Until now, the study of these structures has been based on the formal analysis of architecture and of large in-situ finds, lacking an analysis of the microscopic finds, with their informative potential. Thus, in this research project I want to complement this macro-narrative with a bottom-up approach, seeking to better explore the undercurrents entangled in those monumental buildings and reflect upon the practices involved in their creation and use.

To unravel the microscopic information in the archaeological deposits, I combine micromorphology and geochemistry. Micromorphology studies thin sections (30 μm thick) of undisturbed blocks of sediment under a petrographic microscope: at this scale, it becomes possible to decipher sedimentary structures, fabric, composition (organic and inorganic) and texture of the deposits (Goldberg and Macphail 2006), providing evidence from which a sequence of events can be deduced (Weiner 2010). In addition to that, the set of chemical analyses comprises: “spot tests” (pH, carbonates, phosphates and others), to provide a preliminary assay of the sampled area; gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), for the identification of organic molecules; inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES), to determine a suite of elements, including both anthropogenic and environmental indicators (Middelton et al. 2010).

The collected information, in combination with the already available macro-data, will prompt a reflection on the biography and materiality of the 4th millennium public buildings: how they were used, made meaningful and, in turn, how they acted upon people, with respect to the broader cultural developments taking place at the settlement. Methodologically, this work aims at showing how high-resolution scientific techniques represent a valuable resource to gain insights into spaces and past ways of living, and ultimately address social issues.


Frangipane, M., 2011: “Arslantepe-Malatya”, in Steadman, S.R. and McMahon, G. (eds.) Oxford Handbook on Anatolian Studies (10,000-323 BCE). Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 968-992.

Goldberg, P. and MacPhail, R., 2006: Practical and Theoretical Geoarchaeology. Malden: Blackwell Science.

Middleton, W.D., Barba, L., Pecci, A. et al., 2010: “The Study of Archaeological Floors: Methodological Proposal for the Analysis of Anthropogenic Residues by Spot Tests, ICP-OES, and GC-MS”, in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 17 (3), pp. 183-208.

Weiner, S., 2010: Microarchaeology: Beyond the Visible Archaeological Record. New York: Cambridge University Press.