Michael S. Tite— 2008 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology

Award Citation:

It is with great pleasure that the Pomerance Science Medal Award Committee names Dr. Michael S. Tite as the recipient of the 2008 award. Perhaps best known for serving as the director of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at Oxford University and as the editor of the journal Archaeometry, Dr. Tite is an archaeological scientist who has specialized in analyses of ceramics, glass, and glazed materials but who also has much broader experience and interests. Examples of his work include studies of electromagnetic prospection using soil conductivity, thermal expansion of ceramics and determining firing temperature, Greek and Roman high-gloss ceramics, lead glazes, copper and cobalt colorants, Merovingian jewelry, Chinese and English porcelain, crucibles and tuyeres from Timna, and fire installations at Abu Salabikh. He is the author or coauthor of more than 150 papers in refereed journals and edited volumes, and he was the chairman of the standing committee for the biennial International Symposium for Archaeometry for 16 years. Since becoming the professor emeritus and fellow of Linacre College, Dr. Tite has continued his research on production technology of early vitreous materials with a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship.

As an undergraduate, Dr. Tite studied physics at Oxford and continued at Christ Church for his D.Phil., under the direction of Martin Aitken.  His thesis is entitled “Measurement of Radiation Damage in Ceramics and Its Application to Age Determination” (1965).

During his early career at the University of Leeds (1964–1967) and at Essex (1967–1975), his interests expanded to cover other aspects of archaeological science, and in 1972 he published Methods of Physical Examination in Archaeology (London), a first-of-its-kind textbook that remained in wide use for nearly 20 years and which strongly promoted the application of scientific analyses to archaeological materials. While later serving as Keeper of the Research Laboratory of the British Museum (1975–1989), he made major research contributions on the use of ceramic glosses, blue frit, and faience in Egypt and the Near East, on lead and tin glazes in the Roman and Islamic periods, and on the development of glazed ceramics and porcelain in Europe. One especially notable contribution was organizing the AMS radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin: he submitted blind samples to Oxford, Arizona, and Zurich laboratories, and all three produced very similar Medieval-period results that coincided with the Shroud’s “discovery.”

Later, while at Oxford as the Edward Hall Professor of Archaeological Science (1989–2004), Dr. Tite directed and increased the facilities and staff involved in AMS radiocarbon dating; the development of the OxCal calibration program; tephrochronology, paleodiet, and stable isotope analyses; thermoluminescence and optically stimulated luminescence dating; and other scientific applications in archaeology. At the same time, he continued his own research on ceramics and other archaeological materials. One of his own major publications that reflects his career goals and accomplishments and remains extremely useful for teaching purposes is “Pottery: Production Distribution and Consumption. The Contribution of the Physical Sciences” (Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 6 [1999] 181–233). Dr. Tite also served as the editor of Archaeometry, expanding it from a semiannual to a quarterly publication that is now accessible through Blackwell Publishing.

Dr. Tite’s other major contribution to the field of archaeology is the significant number of distinguished student graduates who follow his path in the integration of science and archaeology. Many are contributors to the Festschrift in his honor, which has just been published by Oxbow Books (2007) and is entitled From Mine to Microscope: Advances in the Study of Ancient Technology (A.J. Shortland, I.C. Freestone, and T. Rehren, eds.). It is with the same sense of honor that we offer Michael S. Tite the Archaeological Institute of America’s 2008 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology.

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