Bar-Ilan University to get world’s most advanced archeological field device

Instrument will enable on-site analysis of microscopic finds, says Prof. Aren Maeir.

Archeology 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Archeology 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A groundbreaking handheld infrared spectrometer will put Bar-Ilan University at the forefront of the world’s archeological movement, Prof. Aren M. Maeir of the university’s Archeology Department said Wednesday.
The $70,000, state-of-the-art device – known as the X-Ray Florescent Spectrometer Handheld (XRF), which until recently was only available in laboratories – will be arriving at the university in a few weeks. The funding to acquire it came from university president Prof. Moshe Kaveh.
Researchers will be using the instrument in tandem with the Fourier Transform IR spectrometer (FTIR), which archeologists currently use in excavations.
Combined, Maeir said, the devices will provide in-the-field analytic capabilities at the atomic and molecular level unmatched anywhere in the world.
“To my knowledge, we will be the first archeological excavation team in the world which will have both spectrometers in the field,” he said. “This will give us unbelievable capabilities for on-site analysis.”
By utilizing the Handheld XRF in the field, he continued, archeologists could analyze microscopic samples in real time, allowing them to uncover greater evidence of historical significance that previously took protracted periods to analyze in far-away laboratories.
“In the past, and even today, archeologists have been forced to ship off findings to a laboratory for analysis that could take weeks to yield results,” he said. “With the XRF, findings can be determined instantaneously, allowing archeologists to stay in the field to discover more in real time.”
Comparing the process to medical results, he explained that “if you have a blood test and send it to a lab far away to get the diagnosis a month later, you lose valuable time for treatment, [rather] than if you get the results right away. This [the XRF] saves us valuable time.”
Maeir said the device would provide a wide range of tools to conduct in-depth microarcheology.
“Archeology is by definition a very interdisciplinary field, because you have to utilize every avenue of research, and the more tools you can bring with you in the field will enhance findings significantly,” he said. “This suddenly gives us an extraordinary analytic tool kit in the field to study the past in a much more fine-grained manner than in the past.”
If both devices had been used in previous digs, he added, teams could have learned far more about the historic activities that took place at a given site.
“For example, if the sediments showed evidence that the area was used as an animal pen, it would give you a very different result than if it was used as a banquet hall, wheat storage facility, or something else,” he said.
Maeir said Kaveh had decided to make the donation after attending a recent university sponsored excavation with his grandchildren, which had inspired him to contribute to future archeological endeavors.