JAIC 1980, Volume 19, Number 2, Article 8 (pp. 111 to 112)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1980, Volume 19, Number 2, Article 8 (pp. 111 to 112)


Eugene Farrell

Archaeological Chemistry, A Sourcebook on the Application of Chemistry to Archaeology, by ZviGoffer, Volume 55 in Chemical Analysis Series, John Wiley and Sons, 1980

The stated purpose of Analytical Chemistry is to present an interdisciplinary book addressed to archaeologists and students of archaeology. It succeeds in providing a guide to the scientific assistance that the archaeologist may gain from chemistry and presents an understanding of theory and applications rather than details of methods and theories. While the book was written for the archaeologist, it covers much material of interest to the art historian and should be required reading for conservators.

The twenty-three chapters of the book are divided among four major sections on Chemistry, Materials and Technologies, Decay and Restoration of Archaeological Materials and Analecta.

The section on Chemistry begins with basic material on chemical principles and proceeds quickly to more substantive sampling methods, analysis and presentation of results. Chapters 3 and 4 outline specific methods of modern instrumental analysis. Those topics discussed are X-rays, radiography, emission spectroscopy, laser microprobe analysis, flame photometry, X-ray fluorescence, electron-probe and absorption spectroscopy. A final chapter on Chemistry covers radioactivity and nuclear energy. One value of so compact a presentation is that the nonspecialist can gain an overview of the variety of techniques and information to be gained from utilization of these instruments. There is also some good advice for the professional on the presentation of analytical results.

Once the chemistry had been covered, Archaeological Chemistry hits its stride in the sections on Materials and Techniques, Decay and Restoration and Analecta. The reader can relax and enjoy the case histories on stone, building materials, pottery, glass, pigments and metals.

The causes of corrosion and conservation sections make for further enjoyable reading and continue to emphasize scientific principles and examples. The scientific basics touched on in the early chapters are reinforced in the section on dating (Chapters 16–19), which covers fluorine, nitrogen and racemization of amino acids in bones, Carbon 14, potassium-argon dating and techniques based on radiation damage, namely fission track and alfa recoil track dating.

The Analecta covers geochemical survey methods of archaeological sites, paleclimates and paleo temperatures and finally a section on the authentication of antiques.

The organization of the book is well done and each topic of the text flows well into the next. Less laudible are the illustrations, which, in several cases, have been too greatly reduced; the drafting of the figures also leaves something to be desired. There are some editorial errors in this book, but they are obvious and should not be confusing to the reader. For example, on page 56 the carbon symbol does not bear the mass or atomic number mentioned in the text.

Each chapter of Archaeological Chemistry has a well-selected, up-to-date bibliography which is a valuable working tool in itself. The bibliography has been augmented by Chapter 23 which discusses the “Literature on Archaeological Chemistry.” Here we have a survey of the literature pertinent to archaeological chemistry including general works, monographs, journals, etc. This is a welcome summary, and is a chapter that could well be imitated by many scientific books, reviews or otherwise. A further valuable feature are the glossaries to be found at the end of the chapters on ceramics, glass, metals and conservation.

Zvi Goffer has written a book that can be highly recommended both for its content and readibility and for the role it plays as an interdisciplinary book.


Copyright 1980 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works