Peter Ian Kuniholm— 2003 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology

Award Citation:

The AIA is pleased to present the Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology to Prof. Peter Ian Kuniholm, director of the Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener Laboratory for Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology at Cornell University. The focus of the laboratory, organized and led by Kuniholm for 30 years, has been the building of long tree-ring chronologies for the Eastern half of the Mediterranean from the Neolithic to the present. Over ten million tree-ring measurements have led to the successful compilation of chronologies spanning, but not wholly covering, 9000 years. At first studies concentrated on the Iron Age period of Turkey using conifers; now partial chronologies have been constructed using samples from seven species of trees spread over the Eastern Mediterranean from Georgia near the Caucasus to Italy and from Cyprus and Lebanon to the former Yugoslavia and parts of Bulgaria.

Kuniholm has pioneered in the cross dating of wood over considerable distances, not only establishing dates for micro-climatic zones, but also leading to evidence for macro-climatic patterns. He has even been using INAA trace analysis to more accurately date volcanic eruptions based on sampling of a single tree ring and correlating an increase in gold concentration caused by the eruption. To accomplish this, he has focused on careful collection of wood samples, full documentation of archaeological context, and the preparation and measurement of samples using standardized protocols.  In his laboratory many Cornell University undergraduates and graduate students have been trained in the scientific measurements necessary for reliable dendrochronology. He and his students have dated tomb and building timbers, fishing gear and shipwrecked hulls, Ottoman monuments, panel paintings, charcoal and icons. The results have been communicated faithfully and promptly in yearly reports and in an active, user-friendly web site. His web site has 145,000 hits annually, this year from 72 countries. Kuniholm has produced many review articles, special topical articles and appendices in archaeological reports, totaling almost 100 peer-reviewed papers. In addition, Kuniholm has contributed major chapters and encyclopedia entries on dendrochronology and other applications of tree-ring studies in archaeology. 

Recently, Kuniholm investigated dendrochronological evidence for climate change and found remarkably stable conditions over millennia with the extremes of previous warm periods matching those of our present time. He has addressed questions of forestation, volcanic activity, statistical analysis, the sharing of data among laboratories, and the cross comparison of tree-ring dates with radiocarbon dates. The Laboratory’s activities are now broadening to include projects centered in Europe and North America.

Kuniholm has transmitted to his students the discipline and excitement of field research. For instance, his 2001 Progress Report states that with three students, “...14,500 kilometers of driving in the summer of 2001 produced 395 sets of samples from 43 sites in Italy, Greece and Turkey, with promises of more to come.” In addition to providing site-specific dates, Kuniholm has emphasized long-term testing of micro-climatic models that refine the chronology by adjustments for variable lengths of growing seasons and the relationship to carbon uptake, as reported recently in the journal, Science.

Kuniholm is indeed the proselytizer for dendrochronology, a distinguished and enthusiastic teacher of archaeological science, and a scholar who has contributed to many of the hot topics in environmental, landscape and site-based archaeology. He has certainly become a spokesman for the integration of science and archaeology.

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