Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)



Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Robert H. Tykot, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sarah R. Taylor, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nancy M. White, Ph.D.


Aegean, lithics, obsidian, XRF


From excavations of burial complexes of the Early Bronze Age Cyclades (c. 3000-2200 BC) we know that obsidian was just as important and as widely consumed in burial contexts as it was in contemporaneous household contexts; Early Bronze Age Cycladic tomb assemblages are dominated by beautiful obsidian blades produced through a unique knapping technique reserved for burial contexts (Carter 2007; Dickinson 1994). The lack of sourcing studies in the area is an unfortunate pitfall in Aegean archaeology, as understanding patterns of source selection provides us with precious insight into the complex social structures and behaviors that characterized these ancient communities.

The research detailed in this thesis set out to accomplish these goals for obsidian assemblages from 11 Early Cycladic cemeteries. Structurally, these assemblages are dominated by pressure-flaked blades manufactured specifically for funerary consumption, but also include a small number of blade cores and some pieces of flaking debris. Contextually, the composition of the assemblages reflects the social significance of body modification amongst these islanders, with the blades themselves likely used for depilation, scarification, and tattooing, and the cores reemployed as pestles in the grinding of pigments, as evidenced by pigment residues located on the artifacts (Carter 1998). Two additional assemblages from settlements on Crete were analyzed, one from a Late Neolithic cave site and another from a Late Minoan settlement. These assemblages served both to provide additional regional and temporal context for the Early Cycladic findings and to advance obsidian sourcing efforts in the Aegean as a whole.

In order to characterize the chemical profiles of these artifacts for sourcing purposes, this study employed portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, a non-destructive archaeometric method which allows for the time- and cost-effective mass-sampling of objects on-site. The results display clearly that the Early Cycladic artifacts are overwhelmingly made from Melian obsidian, and approximately 88% derive from the Sta Nychia source. How far-reaching this procurement bias is throughout the Early Bronze Age Aegean is currently difficult to say, though contemporary data from previous studies, as well as the results obtained from the two Cretan assemblages in this study, seem to show a similar pattern. Future research integrating regional traditions of obsidian source selection with previously defined regional distinctions in pressure-blade technology is necessary in order to begin to map communities of practice across the broader Aegean.