Research shows pottery provides link to the past

Broken pottery pieces might not look like much to the average person, but to Samantha Nadel ’18—they’re the key to understanding the past.

“We are looking at these pottery shards from this one particular site in South Dakota,” Nadel said. “What’s really interesting about the site is that the pottery doesn’t seem to be related to cultures in that area. It seems to be more related to pottery that’s more to the east, near the Missouri River.”

The pieces likely date back to A.D. 1170. Nadel is working with Professor Cindy Strong to use chemistry to discover more about the pottery. They’re using x-ray fluorescence spectrometry to explore the chemical composition of each piece. They’re also looking at what makes up clay from the area.

“We are going to try to see if we can find similarities in the chemical compositions that would indicate that the pottery fragments were made locally or if perhaps they were imported,” Strong said.

This duo is the first to explore the pottery in this way, hoping to understand more about the people who lived back then.

“To me it’s just really interesting to think that we could find chemical composition information now that might give us information about something that happened a thousand years ago,” Strong said.

This Cornell Summer Research Institute project is a collaboration of topics that demonstrates the liberal arts at its best. These two say this is the perfect opportunity for Nadel because she’s a chemistry and archeology double major.

To learn more about their story, watch their video: