A UNIVERSITY of New England archaeology student has travelled to south-east Asia to take part in the excavation of an ancient Khmer temple.
PhD student Darren Mitchell arrived in Thailand at the beginning of last month with the assistance of a Keith and Dorothy Mackay Postgraduate Travelling Scholarship.
He spent most of June working at the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum in Bangkok, where he documented almost 1000 complete ceramics dating from 1000-1200 AD using portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) spectroscopy, a new technique that allows archaeologists to source the origin of ceramics and stoneware without causing damage to the precious artifacts.
Mr Mitchell said the technique gave him unprecedented access to the museum’s collection.
“Previously any such study usually required a fairly intrusive and drawn out approach; taking a sample by drilling into the object and then sending the ground sample away for analysis,” he said.
“pXRF takes a few minutes to gain an analysis of a ceramic by pointing a portable handheld instrument at it, hence museums are welcoming of the approach and permissions flow.”
At the end of June Mr Mitchell flew to Cambodia, where he is taking part in an archaeological excavation of the Ta Prohm temple, studying stoneware kiln production around the Angkor region and visiting the National Museum of Cambodia.
He said the scholarship had assisted him greatly with his research.
“I’m very appreciative of gaining the scholarship and in another way daunted because it has meant that I could visit and study many collections that normally would not be available to me,” he said.
Mr Mitchell said the purpose of the excavation was to find evidence of the daily lives of the people who supported the temple during the reign of the Khmer Empire and ceramics were often the key to discovery.
“The problem at sites like Ta Prohm is that the ceramic sherds are difficult for archaeologists to interpret because on appearances alone the often small pieces are very similar,” he said.
“My hope is that portable XRF will enable us to eventually obtain a clear source or provenance to the ceramics. In that way we can begin to determine patterns of trade and household consumption across the Khmer Empire.”
Mr Mitchell will return to south-east Asia in December and mid-next year to complete his research, but has no plans to live overseas.
“There is certainly enough work in Cambodia and around Angkor to last several lifetimes, but where would I be without my very supportive partner Terry and son Jack?” he said.