My current research focuses on geoarchaeology and geochronology: applying traditional geological analysis techniques like paleomagnetism, electron microprobe analysis, and infrared spectroscopy, to answer archaeological questions of time, resource use, and material technology.
Paleomagnetism is the study of the Earth’s ancient magnetic field direction and strength recorded in heat-treated materials containing magnetic minerals, such as rocks, soils and sediments, or anthropological objects like pottery, brick and metal slags. For example, when a ceramic object is fired to a high temperature and then cooled, the constituent magnetic particles in the clay record the strength of the Earth’s field at that moment in time. This recording can be preserved for millions of years and can be measured using a superconducting rock magnetometer.
Detailed records of the Earth’s changing field strength and direction for a particular region can be combined to construct a regionally specific reference curve of field variability through time. These reference curves can then be used as a supplementary dating method at archaeological sites. Magnetic methods can also be used to investigate paleoenvironmental conditions, understand the field’s affect on global satellite systems, and model the Earth’s geodynamo.
In 2012 I began collecting archaeomagnetic samples at Khirbet Summeily, a 10th-8th century BCE site in the northern Negev Desert, Israel. The site, part of the Hesi Regional Project, lies on the ancient border between the lands of Judah and Philistia, containing elements from both cultures along with Egyptian artifacts. This time period is fraught with conflicting chronology paradigms due to discrepancies in the radiocarbon dating curve.
My research objective is to build a more robust archaeomagnetic dating tool for archaeologists to utilize in order to date materials at sites with no carbonaceous materials for radiocarbon dating. Additionally, I hope to confirm that a large destruction layer found at the site that may be attributed to the the 925 BCE Egyptian campaign of Sheshonq I (22nd Dynasty).
Co-PI’s on this research are Dr. Jeffery A. Blakely from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. James W. Hardin from the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State. Through this research, I have developed the Near East Archaeomagnetic dating Curve (NEAC) (Stillinger et al., 2016).
Artifacts from Khirbet Summeily
In addition to my geoarchaeological applications, I am also interested in more traditional geological research projects. I recently began working with Dr. Nicolas Jelinski from the U of MN Department of Soil, Water, and Climate who is looking at the Lacustrine Mineralogy of the Copper River Basin in Alaska. My involvement includes grain identification and petrographic imaging of volcanic glass constituents in sand samples from several locations.
My Master’s thesis research focused on archaeomagnetic dating of ceramics from the Bronze-Aged site of Urkesh at Tell Mozan in northeastern Syria (3rd Millenum BCE). Urkesh was the ancient city-state of the Hurrians, a culture that dominated the northern extent of the Fertile Crescent and controlled the trade of copper coming down through the highlands of southern Anatolia. Tell Mozan contains a number of archaeological deposits dating back nearly 6,000 years, including an extensive palace structure, a temple, courtyards, and a ritual abi. I worked with Dr. Ellery Frahm and Dr. Joshua Feinberg from the Institute for Rock Magnetism on this project and received the University of Minnesota Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award in Social Sciences for this work.
Tell Mozan, Syria. Photo courtesy of Ellery Frahm
Additional areas of interest include: geophysical surveying, infrared spectroscopic analysis of burnt sediments, human skeletal analysis, biogeography, GIS, climate proxies, dendrochronology, plate tectonics, archaeological heritage, art history, natural history, and public outreach.