The new approach was tested on a necklace which has intrigued archaeologists ever since its discovery in 2009.
Found at an early Bronze Age site in Great Cornard, near Suffolk in eastern England, the necklace was unearthed by a team of archaeologists of Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service in the grave of a young adult woman. Her bones were radiocarbon-dated to around 2200 B.C.
"The necklace had not been worn on the body, but was found near the head. On the other side of the head was a Beaker pot which had probably contained drink for the journey into the afterlife," Alison Sheridan, principal curator of Early Prehistory at National Museums in Scotland, told Discovery News.
The necklace consisted of strings of tiny disc beads of shells and black Whitby jet (a semi-precious stone which, when polished, takes on a waxy luster of the deepest opaque black), possibly carved out of the fossils of monkey puzzle trees at Whitby some 160 miles north.
"Beads of jet and shell alternated in a zebra design. Interspersed with these - and I am currently trying to work out exactly how the arrangement worked - were a number of amber beads, some perforated straight through, some with cross-shaped perforations," Sheridan said.