Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Monash University will be hosting the 5th International Conference on Advanced Vibrational Spectroscopy in Melbourne, July 12th to 17th. One of the invited speakers is Peter Vandenabeele who is Research Professor in Archaeometry at Ghent University.

Archaeometry is the science of archaeology, using analytic chemistry, spectroscopy, (bio) organic chemistry, electrochemistry, physics, conservation science, museology, anthropology, history, history of art and archaeology. In other words all the post-Indiana Jones stuff.

The analysis of precious artefacts or art works which cannot be taken apart or damaged or even moved and micro samples of pottery and paint flakes are being undertaken by scientists using several non-invasive methods.

In 2007, Professor Vandenabeele worked on the Menna Tomb Project. Menna was a high official who served as an overseer of the Cadastral surveys during the reigns of Tuthmosis IV and Amenhotem III between 1419 - 1370 BC. His tomb at Thebes is one of the finest painted, non-Royal Egyptian tombs open to the public and the paintings decorating the walls are marvellous examples of what Egyptians could do with pigments and plaster.

The research team of scientists involved in the archeaometry phase used visual analysis techniques of colorimetry (visible, ultra-violet and near infra-red) x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and RAMAN spectroscopy. The aim was to provide a complete analysis of the organic and inorganic materials, that is, the paint pigments, varnishes, binders and plaster in the tomb. The results would show not only the ancient materials but later repairs by conservators that may be degrading the paintings.

This is the XRF machine built especially for this project. After a visual examination of the painting, points were selected for study and analysis. As all archaeometric processes work by using the effect of light wave lengths converted to spectral troughs and peaks, nothing touches the painted walls so pigments or matrix remain intact.

The x-ray fluorescence here has identified the elemental components of the sample of yellow and it's inorganic concentration. The highest peak is As (Arsenic) and the next is Ca (Calcium) with smaller concentrations of Fe(Iron) Sr (Strontium) which indicates the pigment is almost pure orpiment, an arsenic sesquisulphide (As2S3). ( don't ask what sesquisulphide is or you'll be made to google it yourself)
Preliminary findings show that the Egyptian artists worked with combinations of pigments in different mixtures, either mixed together and then applied to the wall, or laid on in washes to create transparency.
And in true Lord Hughes style, I'll be posting about the conservation of the tomb next, with photos.


Brian Hughes said...

"In other words all the post-Indiana Jones stuff."

And the far-too-expensive-for-us-humble-everyday-archaeologists-to-afford stuff.

Brian Hughes said...

Hmm...should have gone a bit easier on all those hyphens there.

JahTeh said...

The hyphens are free for humble-everyday-archaeologists-who-write-so-eloquently-about-drains.

Ozfemme said...

well.. duh....sesquisulphide is the is the chemical compound with the formula P4S3. Who doesn't know that?


Bring it on! I love all things Egyptian. I have a house full of naff artefacts which everyone else might scoff and laugh at but I happen to love.

However, I do not believe I am Cleopatra reincarnated.

Jayne said...

Cleo lives next door, one of The Bois is certain he is she recycled.

JahTeh said...

10 points for Oz except if she means the crap which goes on the head of matches in which case deduct 5 points.
Your photo looks stunningly like Liz Taylor as Cleopatra and they were both lousy judges of men.

Jayne, all bois think they're royalty re-incarnated which is why they're called queens...boom boom!

Sorry Cameraface, couldn't resist.

River said...

Archaeometry sounds fascinating. if I'd known about it thiry or so years ago, I might have studied for it and had a better career.
I couldn't read this yesterday, I had a hayfever headache starting and my eyes wouldn't focus. I hat when that happens.

JahTeh said...

River, the usual sinus problems here and my sister has hayfever so it's either the dryness, whatever's in bloom or leftover smoke particles from the fires. I'm using 'Fess' a saline nasal spray instead of chemicals or pills before it gets bad.

Fascinating stuff, isn't it? And it's not static, it's always evolving as new techniques come up.

Ozfemme said...

Yeah, but Liz got all the shiney blingy stuff... sniffs.

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