Editorial Feature

Scratching at the Surface of the Past with Metrology

This article focuses on how metrology is applied to the fields of archaeology and paleontology; how is it used to further our knowledge of both fields, what technology is currently being used to do this, and what might metrology’s role in these areas look like in the future?

sickle, surface metrology, archaeology, paleontology, tools

Image Credit: mayk.75/Shutterstock.com 

What is Surface Metrology and What is its Significance in the Fields of Paleontology and Archaeology?

Metrology techniques are used to investigate and characterize the surface of materials.

These methods have their uses in various industries such as aerospace, biotechnology, building materials, construction, chemicals, geology, medicine, and forensics, to name a few.

Surface metrology encompasses numerous techniques that are employed to investigate the texture of surfaces.

These methods can give highly detailed information about the nature of an object's surface, which can give valuable clues as to its functions and qualities, as well as giving evidence as to how the object has been used in the past, what conditions it has endured, and what other materials it has interacted with.

Archeology and paleontology, therefore, can benefit greatly from using surface metrology techniques.

Often, these fields of science adopt these techniques to obtain valuable information about how tools were used, as well as about human and animal dietary patterns through analyzing teeth.

Usually, analyses are used to compare how wear and impact affect experimental tools that are used in controlled conditions.

They are also used to compare archaeological teeth samples with those taken from modern-day people and animals whose dietary patterns are well-known.

Pattern references from known samples (experimental tools and modern teeth) are then used to spot similarities in archaeological samples, helping to reveal new information about previous civilizations.

Scientists have used surface metrology to identify what tools were used, and how, by humans living in different periods.

In particular, surface metrology has been used to reveal much about the agriculture practices of ancient humans; it can decipher what tools were used for and in what pasture conditions animals grazed.

What Properties of Surface Metrology Technologies Make it Useful in Paleontology and Archaeology?

Surface metrology precisely characterizes the surface topography of samples, identifying patterns at the micro- and sub-microscale.

It can determine features of the surface topology that underly features such as the lay of the surface, its roughness, and its waviness.

It can also identify patterns of surface wear that are attributed to certain activities. In paleontology and archaeology, this is useful because it can help scientists understand how a tool was used, or even how a person died (if it was a violent attack).

All of this information is valuable to painting a richer and more accurate picture of how previous civilizations lived.

What Does the Industry Look Like for This Technology? Are There Any Challenges?

Traditional techniques of surface metrology rely on optical methods to measure various aspects of the sample. Results from various methods, however, are prone to inconsistencies.

To overcome this challenge, 3D metrology has been in development since the early 1990s. Since then, scientists have established the surface measurement parameters of 3D metrology: amplitude, spatial, hybrid and functional.

They have also developed a methodology that overcomes the challenge of inconsistent readings. Research and development has established a global standard of 3D metrology that is able to better quantify and differentiate surface topographies.

What Key Information is Being Gathered Using Surface Metrology in Paleontology and Archaeology?

Over the last decade, the use of Confocal microscopy has allowed for texture analysis of 3D topographies, resulting in precise measurements that help define the characteristics of wear on an object.

This technology is being used to advance the fields of paleontology and archaeology.

Roman sickle blades, surface metrology, archaeology, paleontology, tools

Roman Sickle Blades. Image Credit: ESTELLE R/Shutterstock.com

A multinational manufacturer of high-end 3D surface metrology instruments, Sensofar, has provided technology that has been fundamental in numerous paleontology and archaeology projects.

For example, its Confocal microscopy tools were used in a study that aimed to understand how and when cereals were domesticated and how herbivore animals were used in farming in Late Prehistory and Early Historical times.

To prevent the disarticulation of the ear, wild cereals are reaped before maturation.

Domestic cereals, on the other hand, are reaped when ripe. This means that the water retained in the stems of domestic cereals differs from those of wild cereals.

These differences in stem humidity leave traces in the texture of harvests that are found preserved on the edges of the flint used to harvest them.

Sensofar’s Confocal microscopy technology was used to precisely measure the textures of the cereal stems, revealing different patterns between wild and domestic, thus providing a reference to measure archeological samples against.

How Does This Use of Surface Metrology Impact the Wider Materials Industry?

Surface metrology is vital to the development of the wider materials industry.

In recent years, explorations into nanotechnology have heated up and topography plays a major role in defining the various electrical, optical, mechanical, and thermal properties of the nanoparticles that are crucial to the development of nanomaterials and technology.

The establishment of 3D metrology will benefit this area of science as it will allow for more accurate and precise measurements to be taken, which will help us to gain a deeper understanding of the unique properties of different nanoparticles.

Find Out More About Archaeological Technologies

What Does the Future Look Like for Surface Metrology Use in Paleontology and Archaeology?

It is likely that surface metrology, particularly 3D surface metrology, will continue to be a vital part of paleontology and archaeology.

In the coming years, we can expect more advances in our knowledge of ancient civilizations’ way of life and agricultural practices via the use of surface metrology.

References and Further Reading:

Conroy, M. and Armstrong, J., (2005). A comparison of surface metrology techniques. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 13, pp.458-465. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1742-6596/13/1/106/pdf

FARO. (2017). Little Catalina Fossil Mysteries Unlocked by FARO and Manchester Metrology. Sensofar. Available at: https://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/cmsc-article/little-catalina-fossil-mysteries-unlocked-faro-and-manchester-metrology-051717

Sensofar. (2021). Analysis of Fossil Sheds Light on Reptile Evolution. Lab Manager. Available at: https://www.labmanager.com/news/analysis-of-fossil-sheds-light-on-reptile-evolution-26605

Sensofar. (2021). Archaeology & Paleontology. Sensofar. Available at: https://www.sensofar.com/metrology/markets/archaeology-paleontology/

Sensofar. (2021). Case Studies. Sensofar. Available at: https://www.sensofar.com/cs17_prehistoric-tool-use-and-the-evolution-of-landscapes-a-3d-microwear-perspective

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.


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