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In late 2010, the Getty Conservation Institute was awarded a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to conduct scientific research on Attic pottery—the iconic red- and blackfigure pottery produced in ancient Greece that represents the pinnacle of ancient ceramic craftsmanship. This project—a collaboration of the GCI, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Stanford University/SLAC National Accelerator Facility, and the Aerospace Corporation—will study the chemical and physical makeup of these ancient ceramics at an unprecedented level of detail using state-of-the-art high-resolution analytical technologies.

This collaborative project will measure the composition, morphology, and chemicalstate distribution of iron minerals in the ceramic slips, using the high-resolution techniques of laser ablation inductively coupled mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS, inclusive of X-ray absorption near edge structure [XANES] and X-ray absorption fine structure [EXAFS]), X-ray diffraction (XRD), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDXS). In addition, as part of this effort, a sub-100 nm XANES microscopy technique for the study of ceramic materials will be refined, providing a means of coupling chemically specific information with microimaging. Once mature, this technology will be available to all users of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, thus enhancing the study of a wide variety of heterogeneous materials.

The Attic pottery study will increase understanding of how ancient artisans created these vessels through their use of deliberately engineered clay compositions and/or complex kiln firing regimens. Stylistic analyses coupled with investigations into the development of this technology within the context of ancient workshop practice will also be evaluated.

The National Science Foundation grant also includes funding for a postdoctoral researcher at the GCI and for educational outreach programs.