F. Petrucci, VIII National Congress of the Italian Association of Archaeometry - Science and Cultural Heritage: state of the art and perspectives, e-conservation Journal 2, 2014, pp. 27-30
Available online 26 May 2014
doi: 10.18236/econs2.201406

VIII National Congress of the Italian Association of Archaeometry

Science and Cultural Heritage: state of the art and perspectives

Review by Ferruccio Petrucci

February 5-7, 2014
Bologna, Italy

Organised by
AIAr – Associazione Italiana di Archeometria

AIAr, the Italian Association of Archaeometry, has been organizing since 1999 a biennial congress to promote the dialogue and exchange of ideas on research for the protection and conservation of Cultural Heritage. The 8th Congress of AIAr took place from 5th to 7th February 2014 at the Conference Center of the Italian National Research Council (CNR) in Bologna. The congress main aim is also that of AIAr: to enhance debate and collaboration among the many actors of scientific research in the Cultural Heritage field.

With more than 200 associates, most of them working in universities and research institutions, the association promotes an interdisciplinary approach to scientific research of Cultural Heritage, aimed at conserving, restoring or simply to   advance on the knowledge of the remains of the past.

A national event is planned each year: a general purpose congress and a thematic workshop are organized, on alternate years.

The 8th Congress was intentionally focused on general issues and its 88 contributions, both oral presentations (48) and posters (40), were divided in six sessions: Characterization and Diagnostics; Preventive Conservation and Restoration; Technological Innovation, New materials and Nanotechnologies; Dating and Provenance; and Protection and Valorization. Due to the high number of communications and limited time, the congress was organized in parallel sessions. For the same reason, only some few presentations will be mentioned in this review.

As a curiosity for those who love statistics, taking a closer look at the content of presentations we find that the researches on specific works of art, from roman to contemporary art, are almost equalizing in number (22) the reports of archaeological interest (27) and that studies on stones and ceramics are by far more numerous (22) that investigations on any other art support material, including glass (6) and paper (5).

The works of the congress were introduced by invited speaker professor Peter Brimblecombe, Associate Dean and Chair Professor of Atmospheric Environment at the School of Energy and Environment in the City University of Hong Kong. His lecture, "Climate modelling and estimating damage to heritage", took stock of the situation of cultural heritage in the face of global warming and increasing urban pollution. The second day invited lecture was held by prof. Piero Baglioni of the Chemistry Department and CSGI Consortium of Florence University and was focused on the applications of "Nanoscience for cultural heritage".

At the end of the congress, a round table dedicated to the national and European aspects of funding was organized under the title "Perspectives and Tools for the funding of research applied to Cultural Heritage". Chaired by Maria Perla Colombini, President of AIAr and Director of the Institute for the Conservation and Promotion of Cultural Heritage (ICVBC) of CNR, Pisa University, the discussion took place among the speakers representing various institutions: Cristina Sabbioni, Director of the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (ISAC) of CNR and on behalf of MIBACT, the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage, for the European Joint Programming Initiatives (JPI) calls on Cultural Heritage; Emilio Ribes Gómez, Coordinator of the European Project EC-SYDDARTA, from Instituto Tecnológico de Óptica, Color e  Imagen, AIDO, Spain; and Marina Silverii, Deputy-director of ASTER, the Consortium for Innovation and Technology Transfer in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

Some highlights from the six sessions of the Congress

In this section some of the contributions that, in my opinion, best highlight the main features of the congress are presented. The extended abstracts of all contributions can be found in the congress’ website at http://www.associazioneaiar.com/cms/content/extended-abstract.

The session dedicated to Characterization and Diagnostics was the one with the most participants. For this reason it was extended throughout the entire duration of the congress, in parallel with the others remained sessions. It included presentations covering a wide spectrum of diagnostics of degradation processes, from biological degradation of underwater archaeological artifacts to the different sources of air pollution on carbonate substrates in monuments.

M. Ricca, from the University of Calabria, presented “The effect of biological activity on archaeological marbles in marine environment” which focused in the most destructive alteration of marble pavement slabs from the Underwater Archaeological park of Baiae, Naples. The alteration was characterized by microscopy tools, and it was found to be mainly exerted by piercing  endolithic organisms. Other organisms, on the other hand, while not causing structural damage, induce disfigurement and illegibility.

Dedicated to a very actual issue, strongly felt in areas affected by the earthquake that hit the Emilia Romagna region in May 2012, the analysis of building materials and of their degradation was conducted by researchers at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. On a presentation titled “Building materials and degradation phenomena of the Town Hall of Finale Emilia (Modena): a study for the restoration project after the 2012 earthquake”, M. Caroselli spoke about the preparatory study to the drafting of the restoration project. The characterization of binders and aggregates, present in mortars and plasters, has allowed to trace the evolution over time of the building itself and to make restoration materials compatible with original ones.

A large variety of studies on works of art were also presented, spanning from the metallurgical technology of Japanese swords to the composition of the paint tubes of Edvard Munch, from roman glass in Northern Tunisia to the “Gates of Paradise” in Florence Baptistery.

M. Aceto, from the University of Eastern Piedmont, presented “On the colouring of purple codices”. The investigation of Middle Age codices, dating back to 6th to 8th centuries gave a deeper insight to the manufacturing of those parchments of  admirable suggestion. Non-invasive spectroscopic techniques like FORS and XRF have shown that the prestigious Tyrian purple was often replaced by purple dyes of vegetal origin, like orchil and folium, obtained by the lichen Roccella tinctoria and by the plant Chrozophora tinctoria.

On her presentation titled “The Herculaneum Conservation Project: characterisation of archaeological waterlogged wood by pyrolytic and mass spectrometric techniques”, J.J. Łucejko from the University of Pisa, spoke about fragments of waterlogged wood from a Roman domus buried by the eruption of Vesuvius was analyzed by pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS). This method proved to be effective in characterizing the degradation state of the wood and identifying the binding media used in roman decorations.

The classical theme of environmental monitoring was discussed during the session Preventive Conservation and Restoration in an innovative approach, providing applicative perspectives in different topics to support the conservation of Cultural Heritage.

P. De Nuntiis, from the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate CNR-ISAC, presented “Beyond the environmental monitoring for the preservation of the Cultural Heritage: the frescoes of the monumental cemetery of Pisa” where an automated forecasting tool for the events of  water condensation, based on the calculation in real time of the dew point temperature was applied in the Monumental Cemetery of Pisa. It is aimed at overcoming the concept of microclimatic monitoring, already fairly widespread in Italy as well as abroad, offering a practical tool – mainly based on an excellent knowledge of the degradation phenomena – as a real help to conservators. The system is rather original, even if the most innovative aspect concerns the activation of back-heating panels to prevent water condensation.

Concerning the cleaning procedures, C. Pelosi, from the University of Tuscia, spoke about the “Study of the laser cleaning of wooden objects”, where it was shown that laser cleaning applied  to wood can be an effective procedure to remove surface deposits while preserving the original patina, without negatively affecting the original support in terms of alterations of the surface morphology or possible color change.

Another well-suited cleaning procedure was presented in the session Technological Innovation by S. Voltolina, from Veneto Nanotech scpa. On his presentation titled “Assessment of a novel methodology for plasma cleaning, coating appli-cation and diagnostics and coating removal” it was explained about the introduction in the   restoration field of plasma torches (Atmospheric Pressure Plasma Jets), formerly used only in industry for cutting and welding. This is accompanied by the awareness that protective coatings for stones, even with new synthetic polymers, are subject to aging and degradation. For this reason, a complete methodology focused on plasma torches, was proposed to clean, to coat and to remove inefficient coating from stone surfaces. This methodology is suitable to be easily extended to removal of graffiti from walls, among many other applications.

Prof. Brimblecombe during his introductory lecture.
The landscape shows how the archaeological remains merge in the living town of Byblos.

In the session dedicated to the New materials and nanotechnologies, A. Bernardi, from the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate CNR-ISAC, presented “Development of metal-alkoxides precursors for conservation nanomaterials: the EU Project NANOMATCH“, where metal alkoxides were presented as new consolidants for stone, wood and glass. These products engender a nano-structured coating inside the pores of stone and wood, or in the internal cracks of a damaged glass, restoring mechanical stability. These very promising results have been the subject of several research projects, funded by European Community.

The Dating and Provenance session included the presentation of a rare application of the method of dendroprovenance given by O. Pignatelli, from Dendrodata sas. Titled “L’alcova di Federico da Montefeltro a Urbino: datazione e provenienza del legno”, the lecture focused on the dendrochronological sequence of the wood in the alcove of Federico da Montefeltro at Urbino, Italy. The wood was compared with master dendrochronologies of the same tree species (spruce, Picea abies) of other regions, finding significant correlations.

Finally, in the Protection and Valorization session, L. Bonati, from the University of Bologna, presented “A risk plan for Byblos’ archaeological site”. The assessment of the risk of armed conflicts and terrorism for the archaeological site of Byblos - the modern Jbail, Lebanon - was evaluated in the frame of the European Project CIUDAD: Cooperation in Urban Development and Dialogue. This work is aimed to produce documentation because the World Heritage urban sites of Byblos and Mtskheta, Georgia, subject to significant risk, may apply to a status of enhanced protection.

The conference, with its large variety of contributions and interventions, helped making the point of extensive research in archaeometry and also placed emphasis on new techniques, new topics and new problems that will be the subject of study and commitment of researchers in forthcoming years. A selection of contributions will be peer-reviewed and published online at Heritage Science Journal.

In 2015 the AIAr workshop will be held in Palermo at the end of February, focusing the subject Biology and Archaeobiology: from knowledge to preventive conservation.

Ferruccio Petrucci
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