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Pompeii inks

A fresco of a Pompeian couple with stylus, wax tablets, and papyrus roll A fresco of a Pompeian couple with stylus, wax tablets, and papyrus roll

The challenge of establishing the chemical formula of composite materials that have undergone great changes over the centuries brings together physicists, historians and archaeologists. Research directed at determining the nature of inks, particularly those from the Roman era, is a notable example of this shared challenge, because details of their composition can be found only in the scarce details recorded by contemporary reporters, while the hypotheses of researchers can be confirmed only by analysis of the very few traces discovered.

 

Elettra's contribution
Small ink traces found on the sides of a recently discovered inkpot in Pompeii have been examined by means of ATR (Attenuated Total Reflection) microspectroscopy using Elettra's infrared synchrotron light.
The intensity and coherence of the radiation employed has made it possible to reveal traces of all the constituents of the mixture.
While traditional techniques have limited effectiveness because discoveries are few and non-uniform, this technique has provided new and fundamental information on the composition of inks.

 

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