Hollywood loves to show archaeologists digging up gold and jeweled treasures. But here at the Getty, we know that those bits and pieces of ancient pottery that Indiana Jones tossed aside to get at his golden idol are no less valuable. For they contain their own sort of wealth: a wealth of information about technical knowledge, its practical applications, and the secrets of successful industry. And, learning how people made things can reveal who they were, how they lived, and what they valued.\n\nFor this reason, a few years ago the Getty Conservation Institute began a research project with conservators and curators from the J. Paul Getty Museum [to better understand the materials and techniques employed in the manufacture of Athenian pottery](http://www.getty.edu/projects/athenian-pottery-project) (often also referred to as Attic, since Athens was situated in the region known as Attica) in the peak period of its production, between 600 and 400 B.C. The Getty Museum has an extensive collection of these black- and red-figure vessels, including many examples attributed to well-known painters, and these have provided a rich body of material for our investigations.\n\nAlthough much has been written about how Athenian vases were made, modern science now allows us to test many long-established theories and to pursue new avenues of inquiry. A series of chance meetings—serendipity does play a role in science—led to the addition of two new partners, the [Stanford University/Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource](http://www-ssrl.slac.stanford.edu/), which produces extremely bright X-rays to study the world at the atomic and molecular level, and [The Aerospace Corporation](http://www.aerospace.org/), a provider of services to national security space programs, which brings expertise and capabilities in atomic level structural characterization by electron microscopy. The National Science Foundation, seeing the potential of looking at ancient pottery to potentially contribute to modern ceramic technology, provided the funding. The different perspectives and technical expertise of this group of collaborators complement one another, enabling the team to examine ancient ceramics in new ways and at multiple scales—from the macro, to the micro, to the nano. Through careful observation and measurement, we are beginning to better understand how ancient painters may have created the intricate designs that adorned their vessels. At the same time, cutting-edge technologies have allowed us to see down to sub-micron length scales (1/100th the width of a human hair), where we can examine individual particles of clay to try to determine the kiln conditions that led to the formation of the rich, glossy black surface that is the hallmark of Athenian pottery.\n\nThis close study can have wide-ranging benefits. If we know the composition and material properties of ancient ceramics at the microstructural level, we may be better able to predict its response to the methods used to conserve it, preserve it, and display it. If we know the types of clays that were used—and how they were processed, formed into vessels, painted, and fired—we may be able to obtain a clearer understanding of ancient workshop practices, which will assist art historians and archaeologists to write the next pages of ancient Greek history.