The prehistory laboratory repository
In the middle of an industrial estate
Amidst the units and the car parks
Is a laboratory
A laboratory that is a repository for prehistory
This is East Kilbride
Scotland’s Environmental Research Centre
Branded with a dynamic flowing liquid logo
Where prehistory sits in test-tubes
Where prehistory resides in aluminum capsules
Where prehistory is turned into gases and powders and pastes and unguents
Through the corridors of power are the containers of powder
The geochemistry of prehistory –
The radiochemistry of prehistory –
The isotope biogeosciences of prehistory –
The prehistory of Scotland and beyond
In the hands of the scientists
In this prehistory laboratory repository
In East Kilbride.
The small print
Bring your samples to us and let us analyse them we provide a comprehensive post-excavation service and are happy to deal with prehistory but also not prehistory if that is appropriate and in some cases we are aware that you are aware that when samples are given to us you do not know if they are prehistoric we do not know if they are prehistoric or not and we offer no money-back guarantees as there are no guarantees no a priori assumptions here just hard science the atoms have no politics our reaktor has no biases and there is no prejudice in a test tube once they have been thoroughly cleaned so roll up and bring us your samples and we will do you proud.
We will accept samples in the following vessels and receptacles: plastic Tupperware box, tin foil (no hats), carrier bag (bags for life please), matchbox, kinder surprise eggs (plastic element not chocolate please you would be surprised), shoebox.
Samples cannot be accepted in liquid form unless sample is a liquid.
Samples cannot be accepted in gaseous form unless sample is a gas.
The following materials are permissible for sampling and we have some kind of technique for all of these, and if we do not have a technique, we will invent it. Plant microfossils, teeth, shells, all sorts of wood, bone, antler, horns, crusty residues, methane, dirt (please clean dirt before deposition and remove all worms), speleotherms, all manner of artefacts from metals to ceramics to textiles (you name it we, we date it as long as it has a carbon component and once had a proverbial pulse), and assorted elements of the periodic table namely 1-64, 71-100 and 112 (latter only in extremis and we need a 36 hour warning and lots of permits).
We are contractually obliged to note that you should not expect to get your sample back at all, ever, and certainly not in the form you gave it to us. Furthermore it is likely that the container you delivered the sample to us in is unlikely to come out of the process in one piece, and indeed may well be destroyed / recycled / contaminated / melted. However, we do reserve the right to retain bags for life to distribute amongst our staff.
Please note we do not sample the living.
Isotope flavours and ancient diets
And so to the Reaktor
Only the most disembodied of prehistory makes it this far
Only the finest samples underpinned by the most clearly articulated stratigraphic arguments are permitted entry to the Reaktor
Only the best can experience nuclear ecstasy in the Reaktor Shed.
The Reaktor Shed, on the edge of the industrial estate gives nothing away regarding its contents, masked behind the corrugation of obscurity
Shielded from penetration
The Reaktor Shed adorned with a stark geometric deep blue monolith, appearing to emit turquoise ectoplasm, the escaping spirits of the past
Inside the shed, an appointment with science awaits
Don’t be late because time is important here or at least relative chronology
The chronology of prehistory –
Time measured through atomic bombardment –
Complex machinery for the deconstruction of materials and the transformation of those materials into something else – data, information, knowledge
Data that is corrupted by the ignorance of objectivity and the ‘clause of subjectivity’
Spinning stories from the centrifuge.
travelling in time bending light stretching the laws of physics bombarding inside the cage lead lining artefacts broken down to constituent parts indistinguishable from the matter that defines the universe big bang flickering lights and electrical surges
Hazel nutshell protons
Birch bark electrons
Cremated human pelvis photons
Meadowsweet flower quarks
The poetics of C14
Carbon abstraction from carbon extraction
SUERC-21566 (GU-17836); 3120 ± 40 BP; 1500 – 1290 cal BC (95.4%)
SUERC-23247 (GU-18537); 8290 ± 30BP; 7480 – 7250 cal BC (87.1%)
Foreplay before the Bayesian dance
Visual inspection only – for now
A dagger through my heart.
The devil in the detail
Craving statistical probability
The past as conjuration, mediated through tree rings, carbon on carbon, wood on wood
The results are preconceived and can only have one outcome because
All journeys end at the Reaktor
All journeys begin there
The Reaktor loves decay even although the Reaktor cannot love
It is an information machine
Never look back.
SUERC is a shared facility between different Universities in Scotland, and they undertake a wide range of scientific analyses for archaeology and beyond the idea being that lots of expensive equipment and expertise is more efficiently pooled in one location for all to access. This facility includes the following Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) facilities: the Radiocarbon Facility (Environment), the Argon Isotope Facility, the East Kilbride node of the Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility, the Isotope Community Support Facility and the Cosmogenic Isotope Analysis Facility. It has emerged from decades of activity and was formerly the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre (SURRC). They have amazing staff and undertake amazing research and analyses. I could not do what I do without them.
Most of the photos in this blog were taken during a visit to SUERC with Honours archaeology students from the University of Glasgow.
The radiocarbon dates in the ‘C14 poetics’ stanza are from the SERF Project, one of well over 100 dates from that project that were produced by SUERC and funded by HES. The dates were provided by Dr Derek Hamilton.
Much of the information in this post comes from the SUERC website and the text betrays my lack of scientific understanding.
The concept of the ‘clause of subjectivity’ comes from a paper by Tim Flohr Sorensen entitled ‘More than a feeling: towards an archaeology of atmosphere’ (from the Journal Emotions, Space and Society 15, 64-73 (2015)). Thanks to Erin Jamieson for suggesting I read this.