Validity of "off-the-shelf" handheld portable XRF for sourcing Near Eastern obsidian chip debris

Ellery E Frahm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Handheld portable XRF (HHpXRF) has received considerable recent attention in archaeology, especially for obsidian sourcing. Published studies largely suggest a high potential for success. HHpXRF, though, has been met with debate and scepticism. Concerns fall into three categories: (1) low accuracy and precision, (2) data correction schemes and calibration, and (3) ignorance of fundamental XRF issues such as specimen size limits and morphology effects. The result is that archaeological interpretations in HHpXRFbased studies are cast into doubt. Should interpretations be believed if authors did not follow the perceived best practices? To address such questions, the validity of HHpXRF for Near Eastern obsidian sourcing was tested under deliberately "sub-optimal" conditions. Irregular obsidian debitage near the minimum size limits was sourced with a success rate of 94% (based on A-rank matches) to 100% (based on A- and B-rank matches) even under conditions chosen to mimic "off-the-shelf" operation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1080-1092
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


  • Bronze age
  • Field-portable X-ray fluorescence (fpXRF)
  • Handheld portable X-ray fluorescence (HHpXRF)
  • Near east
  • Obsidian sourcing
  • Portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF)
  • Syria

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