Exploring the Relationship Between Ancient Egypt and Spectroscopy: A Look at Recent Studies

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Here, we take a look at some of the recent studies on Ancient Egyptian art and history, spotlighting how spectroscopic techniques are helping us learn more about the ancient past.

Ancient Egypt was one of the most successful and long-lasting human civilizations. Currently, archaeologists and Egyptologists are still uncovering the remains of this great civilization through excavating numerous sites in Egypt. The finding, and subsequent study, of ancient artifacts tells us so much about what Egyptian society back then was like, offering us valuable insight to the social and political structures that existed back then.

the pyramid view of djoser on saqqara egypt at sunny day | Image Credit: © Syaifur Rohman - stock.adobe.com.

the pyramid view of djoser on saqqara egypt at sunny day | Image Credit: © Syaifur Rohman - stock.adobe.com.

Below, we highlight several articles about how spectroscopic techniques are being used to elucidate the ancient past and teach us more about Ancient Egypt. Happy reading!

Using LIBS for Archaeological Analysis at Saqqara

This article discusses a study published in the Journal of Cultural Heritage, where laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) was used to analyze ancient artifacts from Saqqara. Saqqara, known for the Step Pyramid of King Djoser, is a prominent archaeological site in Egypt. Researchers from Cairo University, led by Mohamed Abdel-Harith, used LIBS to examine black resin remains and gold fragments from the Ptahemwia tomb, dating back to the 19th Dynasty (1). Utilizing near-infrared (NIR) and ultraviolet lasers, they detected elements such as sodium, calcium, molybdenum, gold, silver, and copper. The UV laser showed higher sensitivity for rare earth elements (1). Energy-dispersive X-ray (EDX) analysis validated LIBS findings, confirming the black resin was bitumen. This study highlights LIBS's rapid, non-destructive capabilities, making it ideal for in situ archaeological analysis and preservation (1).

Non-Invasive Methods for Studying Papyrus from Ancient Egypt

This article discusses how spectroscopic techniques aid in analyzing ancient papyrus manuscripts. Arzak Mohamed, a PhD student at Macquarie University, utilizes X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry, X-ray diffractometry (XRD), Raman spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy, and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to study papyri and ink. Challenges include handling fragile papyrus and limited access to analytical instruments. Mohamed's work focuses on determining the elemental and mineralogical composition of inks and pigments, revealing the production location, identifying fake objects, and dating samples. Notable findings include discovering orpiment instead of gold in decorations and high calcium concentrations indicating recycled papyri used in cartonnage cases (2). Recent advancements in portable, non-destructive instruments have significantly improved her research capabilities (2).

PXRF Analysis Reveals Unique Deterioration in Ancient Pottery

This article discusses a study published in Spectroscopy Letters by Dr. Mohamed and Dr. Omar, who used portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) analysis to characterize deteriorated pottery vessels from the Saqqara archaeological site. Saqqara is known for its burial grounds of Egyptian royalty, including the Step Pyramid of King Djoser. The researchers analyzed three pottery vessels to determine their chemical composition and identify damage over time, using pXRF, digital microscopy, X-ray diffraction (XRD), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and polarized microscopy (3). They discovered varying concentrations of silicon, iron, calcium, and high levels of chloride salts, along with the presence of albite, anorthite, wollastonite, quartz, calcite, and hematite (3). These findings provide insight into the pottery’s origin, firing temperatures, and degradation factors, aiding in the development of preservation strategies for these historical artifacts (3).

Using Spectroscopy to Characterize Gems in Ancient Egyptian Mines

This article discusses a study published in AIP Advances, where researchers utilized spectroscopic techniques such as laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), Raman spectroscopy, and FT-IR spectroscopy to analyze silicate gems from ancient Egyptian mines. The study aimed to determine the chemical compositions of gems like peridot, beryl/emerald, amazonite, and amethyst, providing insights into ancient Egyptian history and potential trade routes (4). The researchers compared these ancient gems to peridot from the Harrat Kishb lava field in Saudi Arabia (4). Spectroscopic techniques proved effective in distinguishing natural from synthetic gemstones and identifying unique elemental and molecular characteristics (4). The study's findings benefit gem enthusiasts, historians, and traders by aiding in the authentication and historical tracing of gemstones.

Read more on using spectroscopy for gemstone analysis

References

(1) Wetzel, W. Using LIBS for Archaeological Analysis at Saqqara. Spectroscopy. Available at: https://www.spectroscopyonline.com/view/using-libs-for-archaeological-analysis-at-saqqara (accessed 2024-07-03).

(2) Hroncich, C. Non-Invasive Methods for Studying Papyrus from Ancient Egypt. Spectroscopy. Available at: https://www.spectroscopyonline.com/view/non-invasive-methods-for-studying-papyrus-from-ancient-egypt (accessed 2024-07-03).

(3) Spectroscopy Staff. PXRF Analysis Reveals Unique Deterioration in Ancient Pottery. Spectroscopy. Available at: https://www.spectroscopyonline.com/view/pxrf-analysis-reveals-unique-deterioration-in-ancient-pottery (accessed 2024-07-03).

(4) Spectroscopy Staff. Using Spectroscopy to Characterize Gems in Ancient Egyptian Mines. Spectroscopy. Available at: https://www.spectroscopyonline.com/view/using-spectroscopy-to-characterize-gems-in-ancient-egyptian-mines (accessed 2024-07-03).

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John Burgener | Photo Credit: © Will Wetzel