Organic residue analysis

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Organic residue analysis utilises analytical organic chemical techniques to identify the nature and origins of organic remains that cannot be identified using traditional techniques of archaeological investigation because they are either amorphous, invisible or present at trace concentrations. Investigations performed in the last ca. 50 years, applying the modern instrumental analytical techniques, have confirmed the survival of a wide range of compound classes at archaeological sites in association with various archaeological artefacts, ecofacts and deposits. Compound classes identified include: lipids, proteins, DNA, pigments, but rarely carbohydrates. Chromatographic and mass spectrometric techniques are essential to separate and identify preserved biomolecular components, termed “biomarkers” that can be related databases of the components of modern animals and plants. The utility of biomarkers or their mixtures (termed “distributions”, “chemical fingerprints” or “chemical signatures”) is enhanced by determination of their stable isotope compositions by GC-combustion-isotope ratio MS. These approaches have been applied to a diverse range of artefacts and ecofacts and deposits to determine a wide range of activities relating to human activities in the past including: pottery vessel use, diet, animal management, plant exploitation, hunting and fishing, ritual and funerary activities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSAS Encyclopedia of Archaeological Sciences
EditorsSandra López-Varela
ISBN (Electronic)9781119188230
ISBN (Print)9780470674611
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2018


  • Biomarkers
  • pottery
  • human remains
  • sediments
  • lipids
  • resins


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