Here, there and everywear: development of provenance technique for mother of pearl buttons

23rd December 2015

Celeste M. Jordan

Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, Master of Maritime Archaeology, June 2015

The principal innovation of this research is to marry hitherto dispersed approaches to the analysis of shell, nacre and mother of pearl (MOP) buttons. Previous research has concentrated on three chief areas: the Australian pearling industry; the identification and classification of buttons in the archaeological record; and elemental and isotopic analyses of shell to determine environmental factors, climate change and minimal provenancing. The present research seeks to draw on all three areas in order to investigate the potential for a new set of analytical techniques for provenancing Australian MOP products and shells from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.

Pairs of shell samples of Pinctada maxima, P. margaritifera, P. fucata, and Ptera penguin were obtained and one half of each shell pair made into buttons by George Hook & Co. One button and a sample of the unmodified control shell half for each pair were elementally tested for 20 elements using Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) and 13C and 18O isotopes using Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS). Each button was compared to its control sample and each control sample was compared to each other to try to identify if there were geochemical differences. Both analytical tests were run to ascertain whether the button manufacturing process affected the elemental or isotopic composition of the button.

It was subsequently discovered, with the current sampling strategy, that the results of both ICP-MS and IRMS were inclusive at determining if there were elemental and isotopic variations between the button and its control shell. However, there were clear differences between each control sample for both elements and isotopes, which indicates that each sample has its own geochemical signature that relates to its location of growth.

Jordon, C.M
Here, there and everywear: development of provenance technique for mother of pearl buttons.
December 2015
Thesis Abstracts
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