Art and Archaeological Science

Archaeometry—also known as archaeological science—is the application of scientific methods and techniques to archeological investigation. The field of archaeometry has been quickly expanding and adopting new methodology over the last several decades, as the sophistication and availability of technology and instrumentation grow, while the cost of scientific analysis has been slowly but surely dropping. Many scientific instruments that produce data such as molecular or elemental composition, chromatography, carbon dating, etc. have become smaller, more portable, faster, and have a lower cost per sample.

As technology continues to improve in price, user-friendliness, and data reliability, archeological science will continue to expand and stands to significantly supplement already existing and traditional methods in archaeological investigation. One important and widely used archaeometric technique is portable XRF (x-ray fluorescence), an elemental analysis technique that quickly and easily provides data regarding the elemental composition of an archaeological sample from magnesium (Mg) to uranium (U).

Portable XRF for Archeological Investigation: The Purpose-Built Bruker Tracer XRF Analysers

Portable XRF can now be found in universities and archeological research institutions—as well as in the field—in every part of the world, providing researchers with information from soil composition at an excavation site to no-longer-visible pigment composition on ceramics. The Bruker Tracer family of XRF analysers is the de facto standard for XRF as applied archeological science with a presence in over 500 universities worldwide. Bruker workshops prepare hundreds of scientists, archeologists, and conservators annually to properly collect, interpret, and use XRF data, you can count on being able to compare data sets with colleagues when using the Tracer.

While new archaeometric XRF applications are developed constantly, here are just a few of the applications in which the Tracer portable XRF instrument is being used for 100% non-destructive elemental analysis all over the world:

  • Archeological soil analysis for evidence of human activity
  • Sourcing/source separation of obsidian and other lithics
  • Ceramics analysis and sourcing
  • Pigment analysis (including analysis of faded/no-longer-visible pigments on porous materials; paint on canvas; textile dyes; etc.)
  • Analysis of glazes, varnishes, lacquers, and patinas
  • Analysis of objects in museum contexts for treatment with toxic heavy metal pesticides (As, Hg, Pb) as part of NAGPRA compliance
  • Glass analysis
  • Analysis of archeological metals and alloys

Art Conservation

Art conservation—the field that preserves, conserves, restores, and studies the materials of objects of art and cultural patrimony—is a field fraught with many technical challenges. Conservators must carefully study objects and artwork in order to understand the materials, method of manufacture, threats to physical integrity, environmental factors, and previous conservation treatments in order to properly attend to an object in their care. Over the last several decades, art conservation practitioners have quickly embraced new technologies that can assist them in understanding materials and structure of a work of art or object of historical significance. From computer software that can provide a 3D object map, to chemical analysis instruments that can provide complete materials analysis of an object, conservators can potentially garner useful information for the preservation of cultural objects from technology of all kinds.

One of the greatest challenges in the art conservation field is correctly identifying materials, whether for the purpose of studying and understanding an object, for the purpose of conserving an object for future generations, or for the purpose of restoring an object that has been damaged or degraded over time. Elemental composition—such as provided by XRF technology—is often used in the study of historical materials and works of art in order to ascertain provenance and fabrication technology; to distinguish between original and non-original materials (i.e. materials that are the product of a previous conservation effort); and to determine the course of treatment.

XRF Analyser Ideal for Art Conservation: The Bruker Tracer 5i

The Bruker Tracer family of XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analysers has become the de facto standard for investigations in art conservation environments, thanks to its capacity for completely non-destructive elemental identification. The Bruker Tracer 5i offers the utmost in flexibility for the analysis of non-uniform materials, allowing those who know the most about objects of art to determine the analysis settings for those objects. Elemental composition can be determined reliably and sensitively, ensuring that an appropriate treatment plan can be determined.

Offering specialized software and training geared toward the specific needs of the art conservation community, the Bruker Tracer family of analysers handles all the following materials with elegance and accuracy:

  • Pigments
  • Ceramics
  • Glazes
  • Alloys
  • Patinas
  • Varnishes
  • Lithic materials
  • Glass