Digital Microscopy Laboratory

The Digital Microscopy Laboratory at TARL houses an array of instruments for the documention and analysis of the use-wear patterns of lithic artifacts. This is a key area of research in contemporary archeology, and the TARL facility provides state of the art equipment combined with carefully planned research programs.

Use-wear analysis is interpretive in nature. The analysis is accomplished within the framework of research questions that are integrated into the overall research design considering all lines of evidence. Statistical analysis techniques ranging from simple descriptive statistics to multivariate grouping techniques are available if required.

The lab uses a research-grade Olympus microscope capable of magnifications to 200 diameters. The microscope is equipped with Normarski reflected-light differential-interference contrast optics that use divisions of polarized light to allow three-dimensional views of the tool surfaces. Its adjustable stage enables large artifacts, up to 11 centimeters in height, to be analyzed. Attached to the microscope is a video camera that is interfaced with a computer producing digital photomicrography. This allows the images to be stored in a computer database program and/or analyzed using software which provides image enhancement and measurement capability.

The above photo shows an example of well developed plant polish on a utilized flake from 41BX379 at 200X magnification.

Examples of recent microwear research carried out at the TARL Digital Microscopy Laboratory include:
  • Microwear and replication studies of Clear Fork tools, MA thesis by Dale Hudler of University of Texas at Austin
  • Functional studies of obsidian scrapers from the site of Tetimpa, Mexico, excavated by the University of the Americas
  • Examination of tools and debitage for evidence of wear, from the sites of 41UV86 and 41UV88, for the Texas Department of Transportation
  • Microwear patterns on Maya lithics from the Colha Project and the Programme for Belize
  • Studies of endscraper wear patterns from site 41VT11: Mission Espíritu Santo de Zuñiga in Victoria County, Texas
  • Microwear examinations of mission Indian lithics from missions San Bernardo and San Juan Bautista, Coahuila, under a collaborative arrangement with INAH
  • Ongoing microwear and replicative studies of butted bifaces from the Late Archaic period of the southern Edwards Plateau
  • Examination of stone tool wear patterns from sites at Camp Bullis, Bexar County, Texas, for Stephen F. Austin State University
  • Microwear and replication studies of “constricted unifaces,” the diagnostic artifacts of the Belize Preceramic, a National Science Foundation grant

The Digital Microscopy Laboratory is available for subcontracts involving use-wear projects in cultural resource management or other funded research projects.  For more information and price quotes, contact Marilyn Shoberg at (512) 475-5960 or