• Advances in identifying archaeological traces of horn and other keratinous hard tissues

      O'Connor, Sonia A.; Solazzo, C.; Collins, M. (2015)
      Despite being widely utilized in the production of cultural objects, keratinous hard tissues, such as horn, baleen, and tortoiseshell, rarely survive in archaeological contexts unless factors combine to inhibit biodeterioration. Even when these materials do survive, working, use, and diagenetic changes combine to make identification difficult. This paper reviews the chemistry and deterioration of keratin and past approaches to the identification of keratinous archaeological remains. It describes the formation of horn, hoof, baleen, and tortoiseshell and demonstrates how identification can be achieved by combining visual observation under low-power magnification with an understanding of the structure and characteristic deterioration of these materials. It also demonstrates how peptide mass fingerprinting of the keratin can be used to identify keratinous tissues, often to species, even when recognizable structural information has not survived.
    • An integrated approach to the taxonomic identification of prehistoric shell ornaments

      Demarchi, B.; O'Connor, Sonia A.; de Lima Ponzoni, A.; de Almeida Rocha Ponzoni, R.; Sheridan, A.; Penkman, K.E.H.; Hancock, Y.; Wilson, J. (2014-06-17)
      Shell beads appear to have been one of the earliest examples of personal adornments. Marine shells identified far from the shore evidence long-distance transport and imply networks of exchange and negotiation. However, worked beads lose taxonomic clues to identification, and this may be compounded by taphonomic alteration. Consequently, the significance of this key early artefact may be underestimated. We report the use of bulk amino acid composition of the stable intra-crystalline proteins preserved in shell biominerals and the application of pattern recognition methods to a large dataset (777 samples) to demonstrate that taxonomic identification can be achieved at genus level. Amino acid analyses are fast (<2 hours per sample) and micro-destructive (sample size <2 mg). Their integration with non-destructive techniques provides a valuable and affordable tool, which can be used by archaeologists and museum curators to gain insight into early exploitation of natural resources by humans. Here we combine amino acid analyses, macro- and microstructural observations (by light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy) and Raman spectroscopy to try to identify the raw material used for beads discovered at the Early Bronze Age site of Great Cornard (UK). Our results show that at least two shell taxa were used and we hypothesise that these were sourced locally.
    • Assessing the risks of radiographing culturally significant textiles.

      O'Connor, Sonia A.; Garside, P. (2007)
      X-Radiography is widely used in the investigation of works of art and other culturally significant artefacts to reveal and record details of their construction, modification and state of preservation. Radiography is considered to be a non-destructive technique but its increasing use in the study of historic textiles has prompted the testing of this assumption as X-rays and other forms of electromagnetic radiation, such as light and micro-waves, cause changes in materials which may be detrimental to their physical stability. An experiment was undertaken to test the safety ofradiography for the imaging of silk fabrics as these are particularly susceptible to photodegradation. The results from a series of radiographic exposures of modern and historic fabrics show that excessive exposure to low energy X-rays produced no detectable changes in their mechanical integrity. This indicates that the customary levels of radiographic exposure used in imaging will not be detrimental to textiles.
    • Brain Pseudomorphs: Grey Matter, Grey Sediments, and Grey Literature

      O'Connor, Sonia A. (2009-06-29)
      This is a volume of papers presented in honour of the archaeologist and palaeopathologist, Don Brothwell. The eclectic mix reflects the diversity of Brothwell's career over four decades, and the influence that he has had upon many aspects of archaeological science. The papers are linked together by the theme of "people" - our evolution, our bodily remains and burial practices, and our behaviour with respect to other animals (particularly as it may be inferred from animal bones). Many of the contributions were presented at an international conference held in 1999 at the University of York to celebrate Don Brothwell's career in the year of retirement.
    • Digitising and Image-Processing of Radiographs to Enhance Interpretation in Avian Palaeopathology.

      O'Connor, Sonia A.; O'Connor, T.P. (2005)
      Although the study of palaeopathology is less developed for avian bones than for human or other vertebrate remains, skeletal pathologies have been noted in the bones of a range of bird species of all periods, from many parts of the world. Such studies make use of x-radiographs as an aid to differential diagnosis, to image features of the pathology that may not be apparent to the unassisted eye. Bird bones are often thin yet highly mineralised, and offer a particular challenge to the radiographer. Conventional medical or veterinary radiographic techniques are not optimal for ancient material, yet are commonly applied. Here we show that the quality of the x-ray image can be greatly enhanced by applying quite simple techniques. Furthermore, digitisation of the x-radiograph allows commercially available image manipulation software to be used to add further enhancement and to explore specific details of the image. We demonstrate the use of these techniques in the investigation of a number of avian palaeopathology specimens.
    • Exceptional preservation of a prehistoric human brain from Heslington, Yorkshire, UK

      O'Connor, Sonia A.; Ali, Esam M.A.; Al-Sabah, S.; Anwar, D.; Bergström, E.; Brown, K.A.; Buckberry, Jo; Collins, M.; Denton, J.; Dorling, K.; et al. (2011)
      Archaeological work in advance of construction at a site on the edge of York, UK, yielded human remains of prehistoric to Romano-British date. Amongst these was a mandible and cranium, the intra-cranial space of which contained shrunken but macroscopically recognizable remains of a brain. Although the distinctive surface morphology of the organ is preserved, little recognizable brain histology survives. Though rare, the survival of brain tissue in otherwise skeletalised human remains from wet burial environments is not unique. A survey of the literature shows that similar brain masses have been previously reported in diverse circumstances. We argue for a greater awareness of these brain masses and for more attention to be paid to their detection and identification in order to improve the reporting rate and to allow a more comprehensive study of this rare archaeological survival.
    • Gristhorpe man: an early bronze age log-coffin burial scientifically defined

      Melton, Nigel D.; Montgomery, Janet; Knüsel, Christopher J.; Batt, Catherine M.; Needham, S.; Parker Pearson, M.; Sheridan, A.; Heron, Carl P.; Horsley, T.; Schmidt, Armin R.; et al. (2010)
      A log-coffin excavated in the early nineteenth century proved to be well enough preserved in the early twenty-first century for the full armoury of modern scientific investigation to give its occupants and contents new identity, new origins and a new date. In many ways the interpretation is much the same as before: a local big man buried looking out to sea. Modern analytical techniques can create a person more real, more human and more securely anchored in history. This research team shows how.
    • Gristhorpe Man: preservation, taphonomy and conservation, past and present

      Janaway, Robert C.; O'Connor, Sonia A.; Wilson, Andrew S. (2013)
    • Integrated multi-spectral imaging, analysis and treatment of an Egyptian tunic.

      Haldane, E.A.; Gillies, Sara; O'Connor, Sonia A.; Batt, Catherine M.; Stern, Ben (Elsevier, Imprint: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2010)
    • Radiography in Palaeopathology: Where Next?

      Buckberry, Jo; O'Connor, Sonia A. (2007)
      Radiography has frequently been used during palaeopathological research, and plays an important role in the differential diagnosis of many diseases, including Paget¿s disease and carcinomas. Traditionally, radiographs were taken in hospitals with clinical equipment. However industrial radiography techniques have gradually become more commonly used, as their superior image quality and improved potential for diagnoses become recognised. The introduction of radiographic scanners has facilitated the digitisation of these images for dissemination and publication. However this is not all that radiographic digitisation can offer the researcher. Digital image processing (DIP) allows the researcher to focus on an area of interest and to adjust the brightness and contrast of the captured image. This allows the investigation of areas of high radio-opacity and radio-lucency, providing detailed images of the internal structures of bone and pathological lesions undetectable by the naked eye. In addition 3D effects, edge enhancement and sharpening algorithms, available through commonly used image processing software, can be very effective in enhancing the visibility of specific features. This paper will reveal how radiographic digitisation and manipulation can enhance radiographic images of palaeopathological lesions and potentially further our understanding of the bony manifestations of disease.
    • Technological Analysis of the World’s Earliest Shamanic Costume: A Multi-Scalar, Experimental Study of a Red Deer Headdress from the Early Holocene Site of Star Carr, North Yorkshire, UK

      Little, A.; Elliott, B.; Conneller, C.; Pomstra, D.; Evans, Adrian A.; Fitton, L.C.; Holland, Andrew D.; Davis, R.; Kershaw, Rachael; O'Connor, Sonia A.; et al. (2016-04-13)
      Shamanic belief systems represent the first form of religious practice visible within the global archaeological record. Here we report on the earliest known evidence of shamanic costume: modified red deer crania headdresses from the Early Holocene site of Star Carr (c. 11 kya). More than 90% of the examples from prehistoric Europe come from this one site, establishing it as a place of outstanding shamanistic/cosmological significance. Our work, involving a programme of experimental replication, analysis of macroscopic traces, organic residue analysis and 3D image acquisition, metrology and visualisation, represents the first attempt to understand the manufacturing processes used to create these artefacts. The results produced were unexpected—rather than being carefully crafted objects, elements of their production can only be described as expedient.
    • Waking the dead: Scientific analysis of an Egyptian tunic.

      Haldane, E.A.; Gillies, Sara; O'Connor, Sonia A.; Batt, Catherine M.; Stern, Ben (V&A, 2009)
      The aim of the research is to identify and help to explain the unusual pattern of staining on the tunic, provide more specific information relating to the tunic's age and provenance and the chronology of alterations, and also inform the conservation decision-making process.
    • X-Radiography of Textiles, Dress and Related Objects.

      O'Connor, Sonia A.; Brooks, M.M. (2009-11-18)
      X-radiography of textile objects reveals hidden features as well as unexpected components and materials. This non-destructive technique throws light on construction, manufacturing techniques, use, wear, repair, patterns of decay and dating. X-radiography improves artefact documentation and interpretation as well as guiding conservation approaches by enhancing understanding. This book explores techniques for X-raying textiles. It describes approaches to image interpretation and explains how, through digitisation and digital image manipulation, maximum information can be realised. Case studies include archaeological, ecclesiastical and ethnographic textiles, items of dress and accessories, upholstery, quilts, embroideries, dolls and toys. Museum professionals will find this stimulating book an essential guide for developing their own practice or commissioning textile X-radiographs.