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Metals: Chemical analysis

Rehren, T; (2008) Metals: Chemical analysis. In: Pearsall, D, (ed.) Encyclopedia of Archaeology. (pp. 1614-1616). Elsevier: Netherlands.

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Abstract

The chemical analysis of objects made from metals and alloys known before. c. AD 1500 is considered. The reasons for chemical analysis are outlined and four main research fields are identified: identifying the composition and current condition of an object, establishing compositional groups, reconstructing metallurgical practice, and locating the geological origin of the metal. The current analytical methods available are listed and it is concluded that the choice of analytical method, although ideally based on the research question, is inevitably limited by cost and access to equipment. In addition a compromise often has to be made between a sample size large enough to take into account the heterogeneous nature of archaeological metals, and curatorial considerations. The most appropriate analytical methods for each of the four research fields are discussed. The composition of non-ferrous metals can be characterized by main constituents down to about one half of a percent by weight, for which SEM-EDS and portable XRF instruments can be used. Ferrous metals are more often usefully analyzed using optical microscopy. Establishing compositional groups requires a more detailed analysis of minor and trace elements using the more advanced methods of chemical analysis and the need to compare data from different laboratories. When reconstructing metallurgical practice the best analytical approach combines chemical and microscopic analysis to understand the spatial distribution of chemical components within an object. Provenancing of artefacts is discussed with particular consideration being given to the usefulness of lead isotope data. There is an emphasis throughout the article on the need to ensure compatibility of analytical data between different methods and laboratories and the importance of prior subject knowledge.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Metals: Chemical analysis
ISBN-13: 9780123739629
DOI: 10.1016/B978-012373962-9.00188-6
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-012373962-9.00188-6
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Alloy; Geological origin; Interpretation of data; Lead isotope analysis; Metal; Provenance studies; Trace element
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/93681
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