Ceramics, mosaic and mortars in the Cultural Heritage: Archaeometry and diagnostics

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Archaeometric studies through chemical, mineralogical, petrographic, micro-structural and physical characterizations allow to know the material of a cultural object in order to define the raw materials and their provenance and also precise information on the production technologies.


Chemical-mineralogical composition, physical properties of the ceramic body. Petrographic characteristics of the matrix and of the temper. Chemical-physical-micro structural characteristics of the coating.


1a) Stone tesserae (colour, characteristics and petrographical classification)

1b) Glass tesserae (colour, structure, chemical composition, classification)

1c) Ceramic tesserae (see above)

2) bedding mortar and foundation mortars (binder composition, composition dimensions and shape of the aggregate, hydraulic character degree, binder/aggregate ratio, physical and micro structural characteristics).


Analytical study of ceramic and mosaic materials, and of mortars focused, above all, on the identification of the deterioration forms/products in order to recognize the deterioration causes (natural and anthropic origin). Diagnostics is a fundamental support to carry out suitable and efficacious restoration and conservation interventions. 



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P. Ricciardi, L. Nodari, S. Gualtieri, D. De Simone, B. Fabbri. Firing techniques of black slipped pottery from Nepal (2nd-3rd century B.C.): the role of the Mossbauer spectroscopy. Journal of Cultural Heritage Elsevier SAS, 1-8, (2008).

B. Fabbri, M. Gligor, S. Gualtieri, S. Varvara. Archaeometric comparison between the Neolithic pottery of different cultures at the archaeological site of Alba Iulia (Transylvania, Romania), Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai, Geologia, 2009, 54 (1), 23 – 26.

P. Ricciardi, P. Colomban, A.Tournié, M. Macchiarola, N. Ayed, A non-invasive study of Roman Age mosaic glass tesserae by means of Raman spectroscopy, Journal of Archaeological Science, XXX, 1-9 (2009).

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The chemical composition of the ceramic and mosaic materials (glass and ceramic tesserae, binder in the mortars) are determined by the following analytical techniques:

  • X-ray fluorescence
  • Plasma emission spectrometry (ICP-AES)
  • IR spectroscopy (FT-IR).

Chemical composition is a marker of the raw materials.

Mineralogical composition is obtained by means of diffractometric analyses (XRD). Mineralogical composition can give information both on raw materials and on the production technologies.

The structural characteristics, the study of the deterioration forms, the digital documentation of the samples are obtained by optical microscopy in reflected light conditions (stereo microscope).

Petrographic characterization of the natural and artificial stone materials by means of mineralogical microscope.

Differential thermal analyses and gravimetric thermal analyses (DTA-TGA) for the quantification of calcite, gypsum, porthaldite, for the evaluation of the hydraulic characteristics of the mortars and for the valuation of the re-argillification process (deterioration process) of ceramic products.

Micro morphological and micro structural characteristics and micro chemical analyses of surface details are detected by scanning electron microscope (SEM) equipped by microprobe (EDS).

Porosity (MIP) measures in order to define the total open porosity and the dimensional distribution of the pores.

Diagnostics is addressed to the study of a multiple system (cultural object, environment and interaction results). The recognition of the alteration or degradation phases and the level of their diffusion are the target. The above-described analyses and the determination of soluble salts permit to reach the goal.


  • Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia
  • Central Institute for Conservation in Belgrade (Serbia)
  • Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici e Paesaggistici (Ravenna)
  • Università di Bologna, Facoltà Chimica Industriale
  • Fondazione RavennAntica