Ernst Pernicka
Chemistry and Archaeology – 200 Years of Interaction

Ernst Pernicka

Abstract:

The application of chemical techniques for the investigation of materials and fabrication methods of archaeological objects reaches back to the beginning of modern analytical chemistry at the end of the 18th century. This was the time when the physical-chemical laws were formulated, that formed the basis for quantitative chemical analyses. The materials studied included archaeological objects like coins from the beginning on. It is also the period when public museums, like the British Museum in London (1759) or the Louvre in Paris (1791) were first established. The discovery of Pompeii in 1748 triggered the interest in daily life and handicraft in antiquity.

Insofar it may not come as a complete surprise that the first quantitative analysis of any alloy by Martin Heinrich Klaproth at the end of the 18th century was performed on a Roman coin. From then on the idea developed that the chemical composition of metals could be used for dating and for provenance determination. Although the basic concepts were developed then it took almost another century until the development of physical methods for chemical analysis allowed multi-element analyses on small samples with large throughput. It is no coincidence that this method, atomic emission spectrometry, was immediately applied to archaeological finds. Large analytical programs were started with high hopes. These were seemingly disappointed after the Second World War as no clear conclusions could be drawn. In this situation new chemical techniques like isotope provide new impetus for such studies so that after almost two centuries it has indeed become possible to determine the provenence of materials and even people to a large extent. This will be demonstrated on a few examples like Troy and the Sky Disc of Nebra.
Sky Disc of Nebra
Sky Disc of Nebra

Ernst Pernicka#

Ernst Pernicka is professor for Archaeometry and Archaeometallurgy at the Institute of Prehistory and Medieval Archaeology at the University of Tübingen since 2004. Born in 1950 in Vienna, Austria, he studied chemistry and physics at the University of Vienna, completing his studies with a PhD on medieval glazed pottery from Iran and Afghanistan. He spent some twenty years as senior researcher at the Max-Planck-Institute for Nuclear Physics at Heidelberg, specializing in cosmochemistry and archaeometry. He also taught at the University of Heidelbe rg where he received his habilitation in 1987 with a work on ore deposits in the Aegean and their exploitation in antiquity. 1997 he moved to the University of Technology Bergakademie Freiberg in Saxony as full professor for archaeometallurgy. His major research interest is the development and application of chemical and physical methods to various topics and materials of cultural history. These include methods of authentication of antiquities. The focus of his present research is the origin and development of metallurgy in the Old World. Besides teaching at the University of Tübingen Ernst Pernicka is also scientific director of the Curt-Engelhorn-Zentrum Archäometrie in Mannheim.

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