Standard Article

Archaeological Chemical Analysis

General Articles

  1. A. Mark Pollard,
  2. Carl Heron

Published Online: 15 SEP 2006

DOI: 10.1002/9780470027318.a8101

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

How to Cite

Pollard, A. M. and Heron, C. 2006. Archaeological Chemical Analysis. Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. University of Bradford, Bradford, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2006


In recent years, archaeology has interacted more and more with the physical sciences. In particular, chemical analysis has been established as a significant contributor to science-based archaeology. The principal applications include compositional analysis of natural and synthetic materials and residues to ascertain artifact manufacturing processes and use; chemical and isotopic studies of biological remains and identification of plant and animal residues to investigate ancient diet, nutrition, and resource use; the determination of geographical sources of procurement or production of materials to establish long-distance contact or trade; and the processes governing preservation and decay of materials and scientific investigation in the context of conservation and restoration.

This article explores the role of chemical analysis in archaeology and highlights the importance of the findings in contributing to our understanding of the past. In particular, taking examples from the last 200 years, it demonstrates that chemical analysis of archaeological materials is not a routine application but one thatmust be informed by a thorough knowledge of the archaeological context, degradative processes, and material – environment interactions. Case studies span a wide range of elemental, isotopic, and molecular investigations with a bibliography comprising nearly 200 publications.