Often treated as an accessory science, organic residue analysis (ORA) has the capacity to illuminate otherwise hidden aspects of ancient technology, culture, and economy, and therein can play a central role in archaeological inquiry. Through ORA, both the intact vessel freshly excavated from a tomb and the sherd tucked away in a museum storage closet can offer insights into their contents, their histories, and the cultures that created them—provided the results can be carefully calibrated to account for their treatment during and after excavation. The case study below presents ORA data obtained from a range of artifacts from Late Bronze Age Crete, setting results from freshly-excavated and legacy objects alongside one another. Although legacy objects do tend to yield diminished results from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective, our comparative work has demonstrated both their value and untapped potential when their object biographies are carefully considered. It also sheds light on biomarker degradation processes, which have implications for methodologies of extraction and interpretation of legacy objects. Comparative studies such as these broaden the pool of viable ORA candidates, and therein amplify ORA’s ability to reveal patterns of consumption as well as ecological and environmental change. They also highlight the role and value of data-sharing in collaborative environments such as the OpenARCHEM archaeometric database.
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