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The philosophers and the crucibles. New data on the 17th–18th century remains from the Old Ashmolean laboratory, Oxford

Veronesi, U; Rehren, T; Martinón-Torres, M; (2021) The philosophers and the crucibles. New data on the 17th–18th century remains from the Old Ashmolean laboratory, Oxford. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports , 35 , Article 102684. 10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102684. Green open access

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Abstract

The differentiation between alchemy and chemistry as separate disciplines is relatively recent. As such, an understanding of the early history of chemistry requires an approach to actual laboratory activities that avoids anachronistic biases and generalisations. This paper presents the analytical study of an assemblage of early modern chemical vessels used in the laboratory of the Old Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the first university institution in Britain where chemistry was taught. We explore the nature and range of laboratory activities conducted there in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, at a time when Europe witnessed the rise of the new experimental sciences and major technological advancements. The assemblage comprises crucibles of different types, ceramic distillation equipment and other containers. The analyses of residues found within them indicate that the laboratory's experimental programme engaged some of the most relevant technological as well as philosophical quests of the time, including the production/working of new types of glass and the distillation of zinc. The results reinforce the idea of a tightly connected chemical community operating in early modern Oxford and beyond, with members including both natural philosophers and industrial entrepreneurs, and whose aims straddled the investigation of nature as well as the pursuit of profit. Moreover, this archaeological study makes visible the epistemic exchanges between the more scholarly and the more artisanal worlds, thus making a relevant contribution to the history of early modern science.

Type: Article
Title: The philosophers and the crucibles. New data on the 17th–18th century remains from the Old Ashmolean laboratory, Oxford
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102684
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102684
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Oxford, Glassmaking, Zinc metallurgy, Alchemy, Post-medieval, Crucibles, SEM-EDS
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10118005
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