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Anthropogenic units detected by rare earth elements (REE) soil analysis in archaeological strata.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MATRIX (Anthropogenic units detected by rare earth elements (REE) soil analysis in archaeological strata.)

Reporting period: 2016-06-01 to 2018-05-31

The principal aim of the innovative MATRIX project is to establish a new interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary methodological approach that combines archaeology, chemistry and geology for the identification of anthropogenic deposits in archaeological excavations through rare earth elements (REE) soil analysis, pushing current limitations of traditional chemical and sedimentology techniques. Many techniques may be able to reveal ancient human activities, however MATRIX is showing that integrated approaches can be reinforced by the employment of REE patterns as an approach that does not merely observe coarse differences between anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic sediments, but is also able to see finer nuances like the degree of human contributions to the formation of ancient soils (palaeosols), adding new ways to tackle a classic archaeological problem that has increasing modern relevance: how do we discern the impact of ancient human activities on the soils that are a pivotal component of environmental and economic sustainability.
The results obtained confirm that agricultural human activities or livestock is reflected with different REE concentrations compared with the natural REE soil level. Probably this is related to the role in soil of the organic matter and other soils compounds as carbonates or minerals and this transformation remain fingerprinted in the REE concentrations at stratigraphic levels of any chronological period. In archaeological site or modern site were the presence of human activities has changed the natural landscape REE method is confirming that become an optimum skill to clarify the stratigraphic impact in the soil and as well the soil occupation and abandonment dynamics.
MATRIX obtained results are showing the capability of REE to identify anthropogenic deposits and to understand sediment provenance origins.

In general the obtained results were satisfactory and according with sampling and laboratory protocols were developed and refine thanks to the support of MATRIX collaborators. The promising data produced during the project show the complexity of REE geochemistry. Although the important role of REE in archaeological science have been demonstrated, imminent further studies are necessary, to standardized the method in this area.
The specific objective have been achieved thanks to the interesting obtained results presented at conferences.
At Serpis Valley samples taken across six different sites , The results demonstrate that REE analyses provide significant details about anthropogenic layers confirming that the archaeological interpretation that dark brown deposits are evidence of a Neolithic region-wide agricultural system in Serpis Valley .
At Engaruka, Tanzania, the preliminary geochemical results from the ancient agricultural system showed that samples obtained from the abandoned agricultural terraces can be related to their corresponding sediment sources thanks to the REE obtained data. These offer significant details regarding the sediment sources that supplied the terraces and the abandonment processes suffered by the agricultural system.
The REE results obtained from Konso showed that REE data compared with soil organic matter, organic carbon and fire markers and crossreferenced with archaeobotanical and soil micromorphology data provide also significant details. The carried out research demonstrated that REE signatures are not just able to detect stratigraphic differences defined through field observations but also highlight variations within the same deposits.
During MATRIX project the fellow has published his research in several high impact journals as (i.e Microchemical Journal, Talanta etc..) and broader journals appropriate to archaeological science (i.e Journal of Archaeological Science reports), also all the publications have or will have an open access copy in York research data base pure ( The obtained results from the three case of studies ( Engaruka, Serpis Valley and Konso) were presented in national and international congresses and workshops for specialists in chemistry, geochemistry and/or archaeometry. Within the most representative events is important to highlight the oral presentation at conferences like, UKAS UCL 2017(April 2017), CSI XL PISA 2017, EMSLIBS 2017( June 2017), XXI SEQA2017(September 2017) and the African Archaeology Research Day (AARD) (November 2017).
MATRIX project has employed a variety of communication and public engagement strategies to catch the attention of European and global society to highlight the importance of the advancement of archaeological and scientific methods. Press and media coverage have been used to communicate MATRIX results and research related to the project at international level. This has involved University of York’s Press Office bringing the project news to the wider public Website, but as well Italian and Spanish newspapers were giving news about MATRIX and also the Website and TVmedia of the University of Valencia were communicating MATRIX fellow activities.
MATRIX has participated at York Festival of Ideas ( June 2016), with AAREA (ERC-StG-2012-337128-AAREA) project staff. Also the researcher was acting as an ambassador for the Marie Sklodowska Curie action, promoting the Fellowship scheme alongside his project at a series of planned public talks at the host institution and at selected institutions as the University of Valencia (Spain) and Rotary Club at Ravenna (Italy). The MATRIX fellow attended AAREA Policy Brief sessions in the British Houses of Parliament in November 2017 where was participating at the question and answer sessions regarding possible applications of MATRIX research results. Also MATRIX fellow was presenting the project results at the offices of the White-Rose University Consortium in Brussels in December 2017. Finally the social media has been constantly employed to academic and no academic public for MATRIX activities and Marie Curie fellowship dissemination throughout the account of Twitter (@GianniGallello) facebook ( Instagramm ( ResearchGate ( and the webpage (
Excavation and Sampling area at Engaruka (Tanzania)