70745 - Archaeometry

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Ravenna
  • Corso: First cycle degree programme (L) in Mediterranean Societies and Cultures: Institutions, Security, Environment (cod. 5696)

Learning outcomes

The objective of the course is to impart fundamental knowledge on the science and technology of archaeological materials through the use of scientific methodologies with the goal of technologically characterising the finds (analysis of the constituent materials, execution techniques, provenance studies, authenticity and dating). At the end of the course, the student is able to examine the materials, perform a classification based on preliminary observations in the lab, assess the applicability of more complex scientific methodologies for the analysis of materials, and appropriately pose questions in conversation with the technicians. The student also knows how to choose the materials to be sampled, can perform the sampling, and can identify the different types of analyses that need to be carried out.

Course contents

The course aims to provide students with a fundamental framework for understanding how scientific disciplines (namely archaeometry) have contributed to the study of material culture, with an emphasis on their history and dynamics.

In particular, it will be discussed how a proper contextualisation of the data obtained from applied materials science to cultural heritage can support a more in-depth understanding of the socio-cultural, commercial, and ethno-anthropological dynamics underlying the production and circulation of material culture.

Part 1: Material culture as a knowledge repository

The first section of the course will centre on the idea of material culture, with specific emphasis on the rediscovery of the values and meanings that underlie the manufacture of artefacts that represent and bear witness to our past. We will specifically go over how artefacts from our material culture can function as vectors of knowledge, ideas, and connections among various societal groups, making them an efficient and direct tool for comprehending our past. With reference to UNESCO Conventions and Recognitions, consideration of the relationship between tangible and intangible, material and immaterial cultural heritage will be given special attention.

Part 2 | Understanding archaeometry
In this part of the course, an introduction to the discipline, its objectives and its evolution over time will be carried out. We will discuss how we gradually moved from an initial collection of data functional to the knowledge of the single object and/or context to a more interpretative phase of the data, focused on an in-depth understanding of the technological history of materials, of the elements of continuity and of the transitions that marked it, as well as the socio-cultural dynamics underlying the manufacture and circulation of objects. Finally, the concept of "tailored" analytical approaches will be examined, adaptable to classes of materials and which are functional to responding to specific questions in collaboration with other disciplinary fields (e.g. archeology, anthropology, history and production technology, etc.)

Part 3: Materials and study cases
Specific groups of materials that define material culture will be covered in this section of the course. Particular focus will be given to decorative architectural surfaces, metal, glass, and ceramics. In order to characterise the raw materials used, the production and processing technologies, and the state of conservation, each class of materials will first receive a specific introduction that focuses on the technological aspects. This will be followed by an illustration and discussion of archaeometric approaches. The final section includes case studies that are helpful for a deeper understanding of how the rational discussion and contextualisation of archaeometric data can contribute to a deeper knowledge of the technological history as well as the socio-cultural dynamics behind the data.


The teaching material presented and discussed in class is the starting point for preparing the exam and will be made available to students on the website: https://virtuale.unibo.it

  • L. Ciabarri (a cura di), Cultura materiale: oggetti, immaginari, desideri in viaggio tra mondi, Milano, Raffaello Cortina, 2018 [COMPULSORY]
  • M. Milazzo, N. Ludwig, Misurare l'arte. Analisi scientifiche per lo studio dei beni culturali, Bruno Mondadori, Milano, 2010 [COMPULSORY]
  • I. Woodward, Understanding Material Culture, New York, SAGE Publications Ltd, 2007 [RECOMMENDED]
  • A. Castellano, M. Martini, E. Sibilia (a cura di), Elementi di archeometria. Metodi fisici per i beni culturali, Milano, Egea, 2002 [RECOMMENDED]
  • G. Artioli, Scientific Methods and Cultural Heritage: an introduction to the application of materials science to archaeometry and conservation science, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013 [FOR FUTHER INFORMATION]
  • H. Edwards, P. Vandenabeele, Analytical Archaeometry: Selected Topics, London, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2012 [FOR FUTHER INFORMATION]
  • M. Martini, M. Milazzo, M. Piacentini, Physics Methods in Archaeometry, Bologna, Società Italiana di Fisica, 2004 [FOR FUTHER INFORMATION]

Teaching methods

  • Frontal lectures with support for PowerPoint presentations
  • Presentation of case studies
  • Discussions in small groups, aimed at verifying the correct reception of the contents by the student and at stimulating dialogue with colleagues

Assessment methods

The exam is an oral interview. The student will be required to present an archaeometric case study that they will create and publicly illustrate in front of the other candidates. fFollowing the presentation, the professor will ask questions about the case study moving on to other topics covered in class.

The presentation should be organised using the following structure: an introduction to the subject or context of interest; goals and issues; a methodological approach; and interdisciplinary interest.

The presentation must last 15 to 20 minutes and can be supported by PowerPoint or other tools.

The exam aims to assess how well the learning outcomes have been met:

  • how to design an archaeometric study;
  • knowledge the diagnostic-analytical procedure for the primary archaeological materials;
  • awareness of the main diagnostic and analytical techniques for a specific class of materials;
  • ability to judge the suitability of a technique in terms of advantages and limitations.

Marks of excellence will be given for the student's acquisition of an organic understanding of the subjects covered along with their critical analysis, as well as their display of expressive mastery and maturity. Marks ranging from fair to sufficient will result from primarily memorization-based subject knowledge, a lack of articulated capacity to synthesise and analyse, and/or inappropriate language. Training gaps, improper terminology, a lack of familiarity with the course's contents, and a lack of orientation to the course's recommended readings will lead to an evaluation that is merely sufficient in cases where a limited knowledge base is shown, or negative in cases where there are significant flaws.

Teaching tools

PC and video projectors will be used in the frontal lessons in the classroom to share the teaching materials

Office hours

See the website of Sara Fiorentino


Quality education Sustainable cities Responsible consumption and production Partnerships for the goals

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.