Opening Remarks at the SSRL Archaeometry Workshop
Chemistry Department, University of Texas at El Paso
Presentation at the Workshop on Synchrotron Radiation in Art and Archaeology, SSRL, 18 October 2000
E.O. Wilson1 in a recent article described the twenty-first century as the era of "consilience", the bringing together of apparently unrelated areas into one unifying theme. So in this workshop we bring together scientists, engineers, anthropologists, archeologists and others. Though we have a specific purpose here, to explore the interactions between these disciplines so that we may help each other, the gathering of such a diverse group has importance in itself. Many, complex problems associated with the global economy and environmental issues of the twenty-first century will be solved by interdisciplinary groups such as are participating in this workshop. This association of art and technology is not new. The Materials Research Society has recognized this association in its series of symposia "Materials Science in Art and Archeology". An issue of the Materials Research Bulletin, explores this issue, "to expand the definitions we apply to art and technology and to show where the two disciplines overlap and become, intertwined, even inextricably matted together2
We have in common our fascination with issues associated with art and archeology. Questions such as how did the Maya produce such beautiful, unique and lasting blue pigments will be investigated using the most modern techniques available to the materials scientists. In the same way the materials scientists will ask of the anthropologists and archeologists, who were the Maya? Did they have artists who traveled and were as famous in their regions as the well-known artists of European civilization? They will also help us answer questions that are pertinent today. Is the technology still extant in the Yucatan? A tentative answer is yes. Finally, together we can ask is this technology relevant today. Again the tentative answer is yes. We have learned from our studies that the technology of the ancient Maya may find utility today. The field of environment science may also benefit from the application of materials science to questions in art and archeology. Studies of lead concentrations in polar ice have shown clearly the effect of the rise of the Roman and Chinese civilization and the associated environmental impact. Ancient dumpsites are providing natural analogs for the movement of toxic waste into the environment overlook periods of time. These natural analogs may provide us with better models to safely dispose of our waste in the twenty-first century.
In this workshop we hope to learn what a synchrotron is and what are the techniques that materials scientists use. Mostly, these techniques have been applied to problems in the materials science of semi-conductors, environmental problems and basic science. But materials scientists will also tell of the application of the techniques to many problems in art and archeology. We will also learn from anthropologists and archeologists where application of the synchrotron techniques might help to solve problems in archeology, technology transfer and art conservation. As a materials scientist I believe that the approaches used by materials scientists including one of the most advanced, the synchrotron, have and will help. After all, the artists and artisans that created the objects and art that fascinate us were ultimately materials scientists of the first order.
1E.0.Wilson, Back from Chaos, The Atlantic Monthly, 41-62,March,
1Pamela Vandiver and Jim Druzik, Art and Technology, Materials Research Bulletin, 14-15, January, 1992.
Table of Contents
Links to the slides will be added in due course