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The Weizmann Institute of Science and the German "Max Planck Society" are establishing a joint research center for archeology and anthropology

One of the new tools in the box: an advanced particle accelerator for dating ancient artifacts

A mobile laboratory in Tzafit. Photo: Weizmann Institute
A mobile laboratory in Tzafit. Photo: Weizmann Institute

How did modern humans get to Europe and Asia? How quickly did cultural changes spread throughout history from one region to another? How do our teeth and bones differ from those of the Neanderthals? These are several examples of questions that will soon be investigated at the "Max Planck Center-Weizmann Institute for the Study of Archeology and Integrative Anthropology".
The agreement to establish the new research center will be signed tonight (Wednesday) at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. On behalf of the "Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science", Germany, the company's president, Prof. Peter Gross, signed. On behalf of the Weizmann Institute of Science, the president of the institute, Prof. Daniel Zeifman, signed. The center will be headed by two directors: Prof. Steve Weiner from the Weizmann Institute of Science, and Prof. Jean-Jacques Hoblin from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

The research at the center will be carried out by two new groups in Israel and in Germany, each of which includes about ten scientists and research students. In addition to the independent research, the groups will hold joint activities with the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Max Planck Institute.

The group at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot will mainly deal with the direction of my research called "the timing of the cultural change". The purpose of the research: to shed new light on fascinating aspects of human history, such as the spread of ideas, changes in lifestyle, the different pace of development in different regions of the world, and the migration of peoples from one geographic region to another. Traditionally, questions of this type are investigated using relative dating - that is, comparing the changes

Applicable in vessels and pottery in different regions. But to determine when the change occurred, or how quickly it spread, absolute dating is necessary - that is, to determine the age of objects or archaeological layers. The scientists will carry out thorough field work, while performing scientific tests at the archaeological site itself, and then perform tests in the laboratory, with the aim of documenting the spread of cultural changes in the last fifty thousand years. The scientific tools that will help include, among other things, high-resolution dating using radioactive carbon, which makes it possible to determine the age of objects with an accuracy of 40-20 years; as well as advanced technologies such as radioactive carbon analysis in a mass spectroscopy accelerator.

The group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, will focus on research in the field called "physical anthropology through the study of the structure and function of bones and teeth". Scientists in this group will investigate issues in the evolution of humans, mainly regarding the coexistence of Neanderthal populations and humans from the early modern period in the Levant region, at the junction between Africa and Eurasia. Traditionally, the study of the fossils of these two populations was based on the shape of the bones and teeth, which are recently being studied through computerized XNUMXD reconstruction. In these reconstructions, the scientists will be assisted by high-resolution computed tomography, which will be done at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig and the Weizmann Institute - a technology that allows examining micron-sized details. The scientists will investigate the relationship between the structure of bones and teeth and their function - an essential issue for understanding evolutionary changes. Since it is difficult to determine this ratio based on fossils alone, the scientists will focus on modern bones and teeth.

The establishment of the new center marks more than 50 years of cooperation between the German Max Planck Company and the Weizmann Institute of Science. This collaboration, which began at the end of the 50s, led in 1964 to a historic agreement, in the framework of which the Minerva Foundation for Research transferred funds from the German government to the Weizmann Institute of Science, thus assisting in extensive scientific collaboration between the institute and the Max Planck Society. These connections helped pave the way not only for scientific cooperation between Germany and Israel, but also, a year later, for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In addition to strengthening the ties between the Max Planck Society and the Weizmann Institute of Science, it is possible that the new center will also help to expand the scientific ties between Israel and its neighbors. "It would be most natural to cooperate with our neighboring countries; After all, archaeological sites do not consider border lines," says Prof. Weiner from the Weizmann Institute of Science. "As happened in relations with Germany, here too, in the Middle East, scientific cooperation can encourage peaceful relations."

A particle accelerator for studying the past

The new accelerator is expected to have a considerable impact on archaeological research in Israel and around the world, being the first and only one of its kind in the Middle East. The accelerator was designed specifically for archaeological research, and will be located in the Faculty of Physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science at the end of 2012. The accelerator will advance the ability to date archaeological samples to a completely new level. In the past, the dating was done through repeated measurements, which follow the decay of the radioactive isotope carbon 14. This test takes a long time, and requires a large amount of material. The new accelerator performs a direct measurement of the amount of carbon 14 in a different way: it accelerates the carbon atoms in the tested sample. As a result, carbon atoms 14 are separated from the rest of the carbon atoms (whose number is a thousand million million times greater). In this way, the test can be performed quickly, based on a very small amount of material: a grain of wheat, or remnants of collagen taken from bones. This is a significant advantage, since the organic material - on which the dating is based - breaks down over the years and disappears, and the ability to settle for small crumbs of material will allow the dating of findings that were previously impossible to date.

The purchase of the accelerator was made possible thanks to the donation of Dr. Naim Dangor, London, holder of an honorary CBE in the "Most Excellent Order of the British Empire", founder and manager of the Exilarch Foundation, which supports educational and community goals. The dedicated laboratory where the accelerator will be installed will be called DREAM (Dangoor Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometer), and it will be the first laboratory in the world dealing with radioactive carbon dating, which is dedicated to research only.

5 תגובות

  1. There is no doubt that the Bible contains quite a few fabric stories, but until not long ago that was all we had. As more findings are discovered in the excavations, the importance of the biblical record is decreasing.

  2. The findings from the First Temple period have been dated numerous times over the past 50 years, the debate does not revolve around the dating (which regularly gives results that are closer to the low chronology of the Beit Midrash of Tel Aviv University) but rather around the use of the Bible and not the findings themselves it is better to describe the history, And for your information, precisely one of the most respected laboratories in the world (of Cambridge) gave a history of the 11th or even the XNUMXth century B.C. to Gal'in Hirvet Kiipah - so there is no problem with the reliability of the tests).

  3. If we take the midpoint of the time of Omri and Ahab [866 = 2/(881+851)] and the midpoint of the time of David and Solomon [966 = 2/(1004+928)] (both according to the biblical record), it appears that David and Solomon They precede Amri and Ahab by exactly one hundred years. If the equipment does allow such a precise distinction, then the investment in it is justified.

  4. A small note - physical and non-physical anthropology.

    The truth is that it might help in the debate between the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem schools regarding the First Temple, since many findings from this period have never been properly dated.

  5. Of all the countries in the world they found the most dangerous for this expensive investment. Which insurance company will agree to insure the equipment against ultra-Orthodox?

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