Users and use cases

So who is our website for?

Dr. Andrea Dolfini explains…

The JISC ‘Cutting Edge’ project will establish an innovative service for the entire HE sector in the UK as well as for students and researchers worldwide. For the first time scholars will have direct online access to comprehensive metadata for an unusually varied range of over 1000 objects, mainly stone and metal, drawn from archaeological and ethnographic collections.  Metadata including high-resolution pictures will focus in particular on the cutting edge (and in many cases the hafting area) of the object. This will support multidisciplinary teaching and research into the analysis of use-wear patterns, and to some extent the manufacturing methods and post-manufacturing technological history of the objects. The metadata archive is primarily intended for the wider community of analysts, metallurgists, ethnographers, prehistorians, conservators, and experimental archaeologists, but users may also include members of the general public such as archaeology enthusiasts and metal-detectorists.

Uses of the online-accessible metadata archive are manifold. These range from Newcastle University students working on artefact-centred projects as a part of their courses to established use-wear specialists, who will be able to select a sample of objects for analysis from their desktop computers. Moreover, the metadata archive will further enhance the role of Newcastle University as a world-leading research institution for artefact studies.  It will also contribute to bringing the extensive collections of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums, Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle and the Natural History Society of Northumbria to the forefront of international archaeological and ethnographic research. Importantly, inclusion of objects made from different materials, found in different places, and belonging to different periods into the database will allow scholars to cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries and develop new and heterodox pathways to artefact research.

The problems the Cutting Edge addresses

So why are we so interested in prehistoric cutting tools?

Dr. Andrea Dolfini answers the question….

Traditional archaeological approaches to ancient and historic edged tools normally involved the typological classification and the chemical analysis of the objects. The first task was carried out by painstakingly drawing artefacts from several museum collections, grouping them based on their shapes and features, and publishing them in paper catalogues (e.g. the Prähistorische Bronzefunde series for European prehistory). The second was often achieved by sampling the objects to determine their elemental composition by using various analytical techniques. More recently, a scholarly interest has developed for the full technological history of these objects including their manufacturing methods, their post-manufacturing transformations (e.g. mechanical sharpening or, for metalwork, work-hardening), and their use-life. New analytical techniques have thus been experimented and old ones have been extended to new materials. These include use-wear analysis, whose application was originally limited to lithic and osseous artefacts.

Yet the new research approaches require novel sets of metadata, which by and large are still lacking. In particular, selecting a sample of objects for use-wear analysis requires – besides the normal set of archaeological and analytical (chemical) data – access to high-resolution pictures of the objects with particular reference to those parts that researchers are most interested in, i.e. the cutting edges and, in many cases, the hafting areas. This is especially important for metalwork, for surface corrosion may seriously hinder any possibility of detecting manufacturing and use traces on the cutting edge of these objects. The goal of the present project is precisely to respond to the growing demand for such metadata archives and to make these accessible to students and researchers worldwide.