Laser Ablation to tell the story of Trading in The Bahamas during late 600s-1500s A.D

Laser Ablation to tell the story of Trading in The Bahamas during late 600s-1500s A.D

A research team from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom and the Vrije University, Amsterdam is undertaking an analytical archaeological program to determine the nature of trading that occurred in The Bahamas during the late 600s-1500s A.D; – the pre-Columbian era. The work involves collaboration with members of Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation (AMMC). Dr. Joanna Ostapkowicz (Oxford) and Professor Gareth Davies (Amsterdam), along with Davies’ graduate students Fons Vermeulen and Chloé Buytendijk visited Nassau to study the collections at the AMMC, with the aim of understanding how stone materials were used and where they originated. Work involved chemical analysis on rock artifacts to determine their place of origin.

AMMC’s Chairman, Reese Chipman, examining a Jade piece along with Professor Gareth Davies

The ablation system developed by the Amsterdam team together with researchers in Switzerland uses a laser to make a hole in rock artifacts about 100 microns across (about the thickness of human hair). The portable system is almost unique, as there are currently only 2 in the world. High energy green light is focused onto the sample’s surface causing the rock to vaporize, generating a high-temperature plasma (> 3000K). This process is termed laser ablation. The generated plasma is transported to a filter using a small pump and the filter is returned to Amsterdam for chemical analysis.

Chloē Buytendijk and Fons Vermeulen, Geology and Geochemistry students of the  Vrije University, Amsterdam, ensuring that the jade piece is accurately placed in order to absorb its minerals.

The study focuses on ‘exotic’ – or non-local – rocks, primarily those containing jade. These types of rocks are only found in 25 locations worldwide, of which three are in the greater Caribbean region, Guatemala, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The study, therefore, aims to understand from where our predecessors obtained their natural resources, how they worked and communicated along their trading networks before Columbus’ arrival. The study hopes to learn (a) if the trade was with one or many regions,(b) if the rock was used in different ways before ultimately arriving in the Bahamas, and (c) if the different islands traded in the same way or independently.

Further information on the SIBA project (Stone Interchanges in the Bahamian Archipelago), funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Council (ARHC), will be available via the Department of Archaeology, University of Oxford web pages shortly.

from left to right: Professor Gareth Davies, Chloē Buytendijk, Fons Vermeulen (from the Vrije University, Amsterdam), Dr. Michael Pateman, AMMC’s Assitant Director and Mr. Reece Chipman, AMMC’s Chairman

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