Material Science

The Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading has wide-ranging expertise on the analysis of ancient materials. We are developing new approaches to writing complex and biographies of objects and technologies. We use scientific analysis to give insight into dynamic processes in the past, such as changing social organisation and recycling economies. These involve the integrated application of several analytical instruments, new chemical and archaeological models, and world class excavation and on-campus museum archives.


We use a number of analytical instruments to provide different kinds of data, depending on the question being tackled. Thanks to significant new investment, we are installing a new Microwave Plasma – Atomic Emission Spectrometer (MP-AES, Agilent Technologies). Along with new sample preparation facilities, this will be our new cornerstone technique for high-quality analysis of ancient metal and glass. This will be just the second device of its kind dedicated to archaeological materials in the UK, and thanks to key upgrades, including a Hydride Generation System (HG-MP-AES), we can deliver extremely low limits of detection (ppb) from small samples.

We have a Niton XL3t GOLDD+ Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (pXRF) for use in the laboratory and in the field. This is a flexible, quick and high-quality instrument for the rapid assessment of large assemblages, and has recently been used in partnership with MOLA-Headland on their multi-period A14 infrastructure project. Again, thanks to substantial financial support, we will shortly be adding two new pXRF instruments to the Department’s portfolio.


Our close links to the Chemical Analysis Facility provides a range of other key facilities including Thermo Scientific iCAP-Q Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS), and FEI Quanta FEG 600 Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (ESEM) with wavelength dispersive spectrometer. Importantly, these collaborations also give us access to the experience of dedicated fulltime scientists on this equipment.

Overall, we aim to combine field-leading chemical analysis with the Department’s other strengths in social and field archaeology, to deliver new insights into our material past.