By Andrea Lynn
Next week, high-tech detectives from 12 countries will report on their efforts to solve a wide variety of historical mysteries -- the balm components used in Egyptian mummification; cholesterol levels in Englishmen from Saxon times to the 18th century; and the authenticity of the Vinland Map, which some people argue proves that Norsemen landed in America 500 years before Columbus. These mysteries will be revealed during the 30th International Symposium on Archaeometry May 20-24 at the UI.
Archaeometry is the application of analytical techniques to the study of archaeological and art historical objects. Applications range from archaeological fieldwork to conservation of museum objects and historic monuments, and include such topics as art forgery, bone chemistry, early tool use, provenance of ceramics and metals, and dating materials.
Archaeometry is used by anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, biochemists, chemists, conservators, geologists, materials scientists, museologists and physicists, says Sarah Wisseman, head of the UI Program on Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials (ATAM) and local co-organizer of the symposium. ATAM is a unit of the Graduate College devoted to interdisciplinary research and teaching in archaeometry.
More than 200 delegates from the world's best museum labs are expected to attend the symposium, including Michael Tite, director of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at Oxford University, and head of the standing committee for the conference.
Also expected to attend are Pieter Meyers, a chemist who directs the conservation laboratory at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and an authority on analyzing the structure of art objects by techniques such as radiography, using X-rays or neutrons, to reveal the restorer's joins in a statue, casting technology of a bronze piece, or anomalies in a fake Rembrandt painting; and Garman Harbottle, a nuclear chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, an expert on the Vinland Map, carbon 14 dating, and on determining the source of ancient pottery and French limestone sculptures using neutron activation analysis.
Other museum labs to be represented are the Smithsonian Institution Conservation Analytical Laboratory, the Harvard University archaeometry lab, the University of Pennsylvania archaeometry lab, the British Museum, the University of Arizona's Culture and Technology program, and the UI ATAM program.
Sessions will be devoted to dating (organic and inorganic materials); field archaeology (prospection and geoarchae-ology); and technology/provenance of metals, ceramics and glass, and stone, pigments and plaster.
Highlights of the symposium, which is held every two years, include:
-- A one-day theme session on "Biological Remains and Organic Residues" featuring the work of UI anthropologist Stan Ambrose. Ambrose reconstructs early climate and diet based on stable isotope analysis of human and animal bones. Other researchers in this area extract ancient DNA from Egyptian mummies and analyze the organic residues in Greek vases to determines their contents and trade routes
-- A computer fair at the UI Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, with the assistance of the UI National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the Beckman Visualization Laboratory. The fair will showcase the UI mummy, offering computer-enhanced renderings of the original CAT scans for better viewing of the internal organs, bone fractures and growth sutures, by Janet Hanlon of the Beckman Visualization Lab, and a preliminary computer animation of the mummy coming back to life. Also to be featured is the work of Wayne Pitard, a UI professor of religious studies who does research on the Ugaritic tablets, 3,000-year-old clay tablets of ancient Canaan.
-- A poster presentation on the preliminary results of a UI pigments analysis of frescos from an 11th-century church in Cappadocia, Turkey, currently being excavated by Robert Ousterhout, a UI professor of architecture.
-- A conservation exhibit, "Birds on a Drum," at the Krannert Art Museum (See article page 4.).
For more information, contact Wisseman at 333-6629 or email@example.com. The symposium has a web page: www.art.uiuc.edu/kam/archaeometry/. The ATAM web page is at http://www.grad.uiuc.edu/departments/ATAM/intro.html.