Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Nuclear Archaeology Database

[Photograph of the LBNL Nuclear Archaeology group (Drs. I. Perlman and F. Asaro and H. Michel) and B. Holtzman of the UC-Berkeley Department of Anthropology in 1968]

The LBNL Nuclear Archaeology group (Drs. I. Perlman and F. Asaro and H. Michel) and B. Holtzman of the UC-Berkeley Department of Anthropology in 1968. Photograph courtesy of the LBNL Image Library Historical Image Library.


The Archaeometry Laboratory is presently working to digitize and make available the archives of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Nuclear Archaeology Program. The program, initiated by Isadore Perlman, Frank Asaro, and Helen Michel in the late 1960s, was one of the first laboratories in the world to use NAA in conjunction with high-resolution detectors to generate compositional data for archaeological materials.

Between 1967 and 1989 the archaeometry program performed irradiations at LBNL to support archaeological research across the world with a particular focus on the Mediterannean and the Near East. The entire database is estimated to contain approximately 12,000 samples of pottery, obsidian, flint, metal, glass, and clay.

Additional information concerning the history and research of the LBNL program can be found in:

Asaro, F. and Adan-Bayewitz, D.
   2007   The History of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis Programme for Archaeological and Geological Materials. Archaeometry 49(2): 201–214.

Preserving the LBNL Archives

The records of the NAA program at LBNL are an historical archive for both archaeometrists and archaeologists alike. The LBNL program was key in developing and standardizing the NAA procedures employed at laboratories across the world. As custodians of this archive, the Archaeometry Laboratory is working to first stablize and then disseminate as much of the record as possible.

Mr. Matthew T. Boulanger of the MURR Archaeometry Laboratory is supervising transcription of the data and digitization of all associated records. At present, the goal is to develop a a Web-based database that researchers can use to explore both the compositional data generated at LBNL and the history of NAA applications in archaeology. Questions about the LBNL data-digitization project can be addressed to him via .

Additional information concerning the digitization project can be found in the following articles:

Boulanger, Matthew T.
   2013   Salvage Archaeometry: Lessons Learned from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory ArchivesThe SAA Archaeological Record 13(1): 14–19.

Boulanger, Matthew T.
   2012   Digitization of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory Archaeometric Archives: Status Update and Availability Announcement. Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin 35(2): 4–7.

Current Status of the Database

Work on the LBNL Nuclear Archaeology database is ongoing. At present, all paper records of elemental abundances provided by Dr. Asaro have been digitized, quality checked and made publicly available at the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR). As of June 2014, data generated for 9605 specimens have been located and digitized. Of these, 8765 represent archaeological materials, and the remaining are geological, biological, or analytical specimens. Current estimates are that this represents 84% of the total amount of archaeological data produced at Berkeley.

We are planning a major update to the archives on tDAR within the coming year. The update will include data for ca. 3000 additional specimens that have since been provided by Michal Artzy, University of Haifa.

Access the LBNL Archives on tDAR

LBNL Database Explorer

Use Google Earth to see all of the sites sampled in the Berkeley database!

[Digital Antiquity Header]

Work on the LBNL archives has been aided by a grant from Digital Antiquity.

Research performed by the Archaeometry Laboratory at MURR after August 2016 is supported by the National Science Foundation under our current grant number 1621158. Earlier research was supported by several NSF grants including the following: 1415403, 1110793, 8801707, 9102016, 9503035, 9802366, 9977237, 0102325, 0405042, 0504015, 0802757, 0922374, and 0802757. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Last Updated on June 2, 2017
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