Identifying Historic Ceramics: Applications of X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry in Archaeology
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Historic ceramics are some of the most important artifacts in archaeological studies because of their prevalence and the wealth of information they can provide about a site. However, identifying certain types of historic ceramics, such as creamware, pearlware, and whiteware, can be very difficult due to the gradual evolutionary processes that took place in the English ceramic industry during the 18th and 19th centuries. Additional difficulties arise when other white- and off-white-colored ware types, such as porcelain, are also considered. This research tested a potential non-destructive method of ceramic identification using a portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) spectrometer by examining the glazes of these four ceramic categories: creamware, pearlware, whiteware, and porcelain. Multiple XRF configurations were used on each ceramic sherd to target specific ranges of elements. Using both qualitative and semi-quantitative methods of analysis, these scans revealed that, although this method did not offer an irrefutable technique for identifying these ceramics, many aspects of the results indicated promising routes of analysis. Two ware types in particular, porcelain and creamware, were both more easily identifiable based on spectrum analysis for the former and trends in manganese and magnesium net photon counts for the latter. The findings from this investigation offer insights into a potential application of pXRF technology for quick, non-destructive historic ceramic identification.
X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry
Stoops, Meredith Alayne (2018). Identifying Historic Ceramics: Applications of X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry in Archaeology. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from