For two weeks at the beginning of the fall semester, Dr. Liye Xie and PhD student Tiziana Gallo, from the University of Toronto, visited the Department of Anthropology to conduct research on the Sensofar white-light confocal microscope. This research is part of a collaborative project with Dr. Danielle Macdonald exploring new quantitative methods of microwear analysis. The project explores two sets of experimental tools, ground shovels and hoes, manufactured to replicate tools found at Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites in China. These tools were replicated by Dr. Xie and were used in a variety of tasks that mimic prehistoric activities including constructing walls from sediment and digging in agricultural fields. Through making and using experimental prehistoric tools, we gain a better understanding of how tools were used in the past. Furthermore, the use-wear traces left on experimental tool surfaces can be compared with archaeological artifacts to identify prehistoric tool function. There are several research questions driving the microwear project on these experimental tools including:
1) Is it possible to distinguish shovels from hoes based on the use-wear patterns?
2) What are the differences between microscopic traces made from use and those made from manufacturing?
3) Are there measureable differences between sediment wear and wood hafting wear?
The use of quantitative microscopy, such as white-light confocal microscopy, is still new for stone tool research and this project will help define the applications of confocal microscopy for groundstone tool microwear analysis.