Identification of lime plaster in prehistory using petrographic methods: A review and reconsideration of the data on the basis of experimental and case studies



Most prehistoric plasters and mortars consist of very small amounts of burnt lime mixed with anthropogenic debris, soil, and sediment. To solve the problem of identification of such small amounts of lime in impure lime plasters, a series of experimental plasters were prepared and studied with petrographic methods. Samples of living floors from five prehistoric sites in Greece were also reanalyzed under the light of the experimental findings and compared with natural calcareous sediment. The most promising features for identifying lime are transitional textures of partially carbonized slaked lime that can be observed in the lime lumps and the binding matrix. They are usually in the form of ill-crystallized portlandite and calcite mixtures or cryptocrystalline calcite. Well-reacted calcitic groundmass, shrinkage fractures, and occasionally colloidal forms are also additional indications. The present experimental study shows that lime could be easily produced by heating porous, soft calcareous materials. This would probably account for the very frequent use (in small quantities) of lime in Greek prehistory. Plaster and mortars were made by mixing damp anthopogenic dirt as aggregate and fragments of quicklime, a technique known as “hot mixing.” © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.