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Facilities

Facilities

OSL dating can be used to determine the time since naturally occurring minerals, such as quartz and feldspar, were last exposed to light within the last few hundreds of thousands of years. It is one of the main methods used to establish the timing of key events in archaeology and human evolution, landscape and climate change, and palaeobiology in the latter half of the Quaternary. The age is obtained by measuring the radiation dose received by the sample since it was last bleached by sunlight and dividing this estimate by the dose rate from environmental sources of ionising radiation.

The OSL lab is recognised as one of the world’s leading archaeological dating laboratories, based on its track record of using OSL dating to answer internationally significant questions in archaeology and palaeoanthropology. Past and present research interests span a wide geographic compass, including Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America, and topics as diverse as the evolution and behaviour of humans (Homo sapiens, Homo floresiensis and Homo neanderthalensis), their response to climatic changes over the past 200,000 years, and their interaction with the indigenous fauna and flora. The OSL dating laboratory is also at the forefront of technical advances in the analysis and interpretation of OSL data collected from single sand-sized grains of quartz, building on the pioneering research of Roberts and Jacobs in this field.

The state-of-the-art laboratory consists of separate rooms for the preparation and measurement of quartz and feldspar grains, as well as storage rooms for quarantined material. All rooms are fitted with safelights, similar to a photographic darkroom. A full range of modern facilities is available to extract and purify quartz and feldspar grains for dating. There are five Risø instruments to stimulate and detect the OSL emissions for purposes of dose determination, three of which have focussed laser attachments to permit measurements of individual grains of quartz and feldspar. The laboratory has two portable gamma-ray spectrometry units to measure the on-site dose rate from gamma radiation, and laboratory determinations of sample radioactivity can be made using a Risø GM-25-5 low-level beta-counting unit and three Daybreak 583 thick-source alpha counters.

Amino acid racemisation dating of fossils, such as eggshell and mollusc shell, found at archaeological and geological sites is performed at the University of Wollongong in a new AAR laboratory housed in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences. This laboratory is likewise equipped with state-of-the-art instruments to measure the chemical properties of minuscule samples, such as the individual foraminifera analysed by Colin Murray-Wallace and his team.

Preparation of archaeological and environmental samples for radiocarbon (14C) dating of specific organic compounds is able to be completed at the Radiocarbon Dating Sample Preparation Laboratory within the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences. In this laboratory, individual biomolecules can be identified, extracted and purified for dating, under the direction of Allan Chivas.

CAS recently purchased three new Olympus microscopes for study of artefacts and thin section analysis of minerals and grain size distributions. Located in the SEES microscopy laboratory, the new equipment includes an SZ61 Stereo Microscope with reflected and transmitted light; a BX51 Microscope with Bertrand lens and a geological stage; and a BX51TRF Microscope with transmitted and reflected light. Also purchased is an MC - INFINITY 1-3C Media Cybernetics digital colour camera with associated software and a new computer to store images.

The new microscopes cater for current research into soil micromorphology and the function of ancient stone, bone and shell tools.

Housed in Building 41 on the UOW Main campus, the CAS Lithic Lab includes a range of equipment and materials dedicated to the documentation, analysis, and controlled reproduction of stone tools, which provided the key technological interface between humans and their environments through the majority of our evolution. Facilities in the lab include:

  • Custom-built flaking machine. This machine allows the controlled application of force at specified angled to explore fundamental controls on the fracture of materials used by our ancestors over the last 3 million years.
  • Labec 7L Programmable Muffle Furnace. Allowing controlled heating up to 1100°C for selected periods of time, this device is used primarily in experiments relating to the effects of heat treatment on siliceous rocks, a behaviour first documented to have occurred in Africa around 160 000 years ago.
  • Rexcan DS3 Silver Scanner. This 3D scanner uses structured light to create models of objects up to 100 mm maximum dimension at a resolution of 10-50 μm. Rapid data-capture typically allows completion of water-tight models in under 5 minutes.
  • Photographic equipment. Several DSLR cameras and tripods are available in the lab.
  • Standard equipment for metric data acquisition. The lab includes a number of USB- and Bluetooth-enabled digital calipers, digital balances, goniometers and colourmeters for use in lithic analysis.
  • Survey equipment. In addition to equipment for lithic analysis, the lithic lab houses a range of equipment relating to survey and mobile data capture, such as iPads, Bad Elf Surveyor units, GPS-enabled cameras. 
  • Raw materials. At any given time, the lab will hold a range of raw materials used in replication experiments, typically including chert, silcrete and quartzite.
  • Lithic assemblages. The lab is a temporary repository for assemblages of stone tools on loan from institutions in Africa and Asia while they are being studied by CAS members.

The Laser Ablation ICP-MS Laboratory offers a wide range of geochemical analysis and applications including:

  • Geochemical characterisation of bulk samples or in-situ: concentration determination of any metal or metalloid (i.e. most chemical elements except noble gases, C, N, O and H).
  • Isotopic fingerprinting
  • Geochronology
  • Archaeology:
    - Geochemical characterisation of archaeological samples: bulk or in-situ determination of elemental concentrations
    - U-Th dating of carbonates
  • Biomedical research:
    - In-situ chemical characterisation of biological samples: determination of chemical element distribution at the micrometre scale
    - Isotopic tools to study the role of metals in neurodegenerative diseases

 

The Soils and Environmental Chemistry Laboratories offer a range of facilities for wet chemical work on environmental samples and the bulk handling of sol, plant and water samples. 

The Spatial Analysis Laboratories (SAL) specialise in geographic information science, technology and resources. SAL consists of three spaces, specialist staff and support for a range of geospatial software and measuring equipment.

The Wollongong Isotope Geochronology Laboratory (WIGL) implements isotopic and geochemical techniques to study geological and biological processes. It provides tools for applications to Quaternary and early Earth environmental studies, archaeological and biomedical sciences. 

The Geoanalytical Laboratory contains a ThermoFisher ARL Equinox 1000 X-ray diffractometer (XRD) commissioned in 2019 and a Spectro Xepos X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer commissioned in 2006.

 

The MicroTrace lab in Building 41 houses a range of spectroscopy and microscopy equipment used for research usewear and residue analysis, geoarchaeology, archaeo-chemistry, and broader applications in the earth and environmental sciences. Instruments include:

  • Bruker Alpha Platinum ATR FT-IR.
  • Bruker LUMOS FT-IR.
  • WITEc Alpha 300R confocal Raman microscope.

In addition, this facility houses a number of optical microscopes.

A diverse array of field equipment is available through CAS and SEALS including vehicles, survey and excavation gear, and electronic documentation devices including cameras, drones and field computers.

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