Garman Harbottle— 2002 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology

Award Citation:

Dr. Garman Harbottle has been at the forefront of applying the Nuclear Sciences to problems in archaeology, especially in the fields of proveniencing, radiocarbon dating and archaeometallurgy.  He epitomizes the pioneering interdisciplinary researcher, who in this case was able to take his plethora of chemical and statistical skills, combine them with an excellent understanding of archaeological data gained by close collaboration with archaeologists, and bridge the gulf in solving important archaeological problems, especially of the provenance or source of many materials.

In 1960 he proposed that INAA (instrumental neutron activation analysis) could be used to source Mesoamerican ceramics.  At a time when computer database and statistical methods were in their infancy for scientific and scholarly research generally, he proposed building INAA databases that would serve to characterize ceramic production at specific sites and enable socio-economic structures to be reconstructed.

After a two-year assignment as head of the Division of Research and Laboratories at the International  Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Harbottle's proposal began to be realized in 1968 when he joined Dr. Edward V. Sayre in the Chemistry Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory.  Archaeology, and later art history, provided an ideal avenue for demonstrating the usefulness of the peaceful employment of nuclear energy.  For the next 18 years, the Brookhaven group experimented with and carried out archaeometric provenance investigations with archaeological collaborators from around the world, trained many archaeologists and their graduate students, and pioneered innovative approaches to strengthening the link between archaeology and the physical sciences.

Harbottle's role during the 1970's in developing sophisticated statistical techniques for handling the enormous amount of chemical data produced by INAA should be stressed.  In collaboration with Brookhaven Lab programmers, he wrote a search program that would scan the databases for samples that were chemically similar to a given specimen.  The probablistic "Mahalanobis Distance" search engines, a novel development, soon followed.  Other innovations at Brookhaven that Harbottle achieved include computer-controlled sample changers and magnetic tape readouts that permitted the analysis of large numbers of archaeological specimens.

With Dr. Phillip Weigand of SUNY Stony Brook and others, he carried out a full-scale investigation of New World turquoise procurement and trade.  The demonstration that trade in turquoise took place between centers in New Mexico, such as Chaco Canyon, and pre-Columbian Mexico has led to a re-evaluation of the cultural interactions between these two areas.  Harbottle has made similar contributions to the proveniencing of obsidian and limestone.  The Brookhaven Limestone Database Project has been able to trace the stones used in building some of the major cathedrals, ruined abbeys and cloisters of Europe back to their quarries.  The original edifices from which medieval sculptures were taken has also been determined.  This on-going project is now affiliated with more than 33 museums in the US, France and Great Britain.

Prior to the development of AMS C-14 dating, Harbottle developed a miniature carbon-14 counter at Brookhaven that would date small samples of 10 mg.   The technique was used to date an instance of iron smelting thought to have been carried by the Frobhisher expedition to the Arctic in 1576 A.D.  However, the date for the ingot was of earlier Norse or Viking date.

One of the themes of Harbottle's research has been that each new advance in science is potentially of value to the archaeologist or art historian.  For instance, he suggested to Dr. Peter Gaspar of Washington University that the gold content of ancient coins could be uniquely determined completely non-destructively by gold K-edge absorption using gamma radiation from Ba133 as a probe.  Gaspar then tested and published this innovative method.

In summary, Garman Harbottle has been a pioneer in the development of the archaeological sciences.  He fits well the ideal of a multifaceted scientist who has had the opportunity to see how the hard sciences can be made to server the needs, and extend the horizons, of archaeological research.

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