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Science & Technology in Archaeology

Neutron Activation Analysis

Neutron activation analysis (NAA) is used to determine raw material sources—for example, the source of the clay used to make a pottery vessel. The process involves bombarding an archaeological sample with neutrons to release radioactive particles with distinctive chemical signatures. In the case of pottery, scientists then compare the chemical composition of the pottery clay with the chemical compositions of clays from known raw material sources.

Small fragments of pottery are ground in preparation for neutron activation analysis (courtesy Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics; Guilia d’Ercole, photographer; © AcrossBorders).

Learn more:

For the science behind NAA, visit the Archaeometry Laboratory page on the University of Missouri Research Reactor website.