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X-Ray Fluorescence

Feb 1, 2011

Department: History
Professor: Dr. Carolyn Dillian

Digging in the dirt can be hard work, but technology lends a hand to one of CCU's new archeologists.  Dr. Carolyn Dillian specializes in using X-ray fluorescence to decipher information about
prehistoric peoples' systems of trade and exchange.  X-ray fluorescence, a method used to determine an object's chemical composition, allows her to match archaeological artifacts with their  original raw material source.  By determining where people were obtaining the materials they used to make tools, Dr. Dillian reconstructs trade networks, population movements, and communication between groups. Because there are very few scientists worldwide who have specialized in this technique, Dr. Dillian keeps busy both locally and abroad.

For the past five years, Dr. Dillian has worked with the Koobi Fora Field School and the National Museums of Kenya as a field director for an ongoing project along the northeastern shore of Lake Turkana, Kenya.  The research team is investigating the earliest phases of human evolution as well as a transition in economy from hunting and gathering to herding domesticated animals that occurred 4-6000 years ago.   

The local Dassenech tribe that currently resides in the area serves as a model for prehistoric peoples' behavior.  This group lives a traditional herding lifestyle, tending to goats, cattle, and sheep, in a manner very similar to their distant ancestors.  By comparing their way of life with what is found in the archaeological sites in the region, Dr. Dillian and her team of researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how and why prehistoric people began herding animals.  Stone tools provide an avenue to understanding trade and exchange.

In addition to her research in Kenya, Dr. Dillian will be teaching a Maymester archaeological field school at Coastal Carolina University, focusing on prehistoric Native American archeology. Students will conduct hands-on archaeological excavation while learning about prehistoric artifacts such as tools, pottery, features related to houses and storage, plants and animals.  They hope to learn more about how Native Americans lived here in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Dr. Dillian will continue to work with the Koobi Fora Field school.  Her future research will be geared towards working with the Dassenach tribe to determine how they make decisions about where they live and their village structure (i.e. the location of houses.)  She also hopes that a group of CCU students can accompany her to the Lake Turkana site to experience an archaeological dig abroad.     

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