english română


Succinct presentation of the fulfillment level from the field

Amber is, even since Late Paleolithic, among the first raw materials used by the human being to manufacture adornment items (Pealver 2007). In our geographical area, amber commerce is attested even since the dawn of Bronze Age, an "amber trail" connecting The Baltic Sea with the middle basin of the Danube (Sprincz 1981) and the Adriatic Sea harbors (Palavestra 1993), apparently in the same way that it would come to be named, in Roman times, the "amber road" (Sidrys 2001). Although the route remains the same, there are substantial breakdowns between epochs and sub-epochs; for example, the penetration rhythm of this material towards the south of the continent is smaller in the second Iron Age (La Tne), the explanations of the phenomenon - present in Romania as well - being, for now, only suppositions.

Amber is consubstantial with the European culture, being mentioned by the first known literary sources (Budrys 2001); thus, the Odyssey enumerates it among the objects that define wealth, together with bronze, gold, silver and ivory (4,70; in a slightly intriguing order!), naming it as object of the commercial trade (Od. 15, 415 and 460), being very expensive (Od. 18, 295). The first philosopher of the world, Thales from Millet, described its strange light, comparing its effect with the attraction of a magnet, while the Greek elektron has generated the universal word "electricity". Ancient writers guessed pretty exactly its resineferous nature, due to the incense smell emanated when burnt, but owing to its exotic origin and its bizarre light, assigned it a mythical origin (the tears of Phaeton's sisters) and with cultic properties which attracted the attention of the first doctor, Hippocrates. Xenophon, contemporary with the great Persian kings, knew the Latin name (sucinum), but as well the Scythian one (sacrium-questionable, but very probative). The father of history, Herodotus, was already relating, acuratelly, that amber and tin came from the north of Europe, while several centuries later, Pliny (Nat. Hist. 37, 45) established that from Carnuntum to the Amber Coast were 888 km (absolutely correct!), but as well that a small amber statuette might be more expensive than a "good for work man" (37, 12), reminding as well his medical (against inflated glands) and magical (protector against wild animals) applications.

Modern science established that amber is a fossilized resin. The biggest concentration of fossilized resins is found in Cretaceous, Tertiary and Quaternary sediments from the northern hemisphere of the globe, lesser in the southern one and only sporadic in the Carboniferous and Jurassic rocks. Due to the extremely complicated chemical composition of the resins, to their chemical inaction, as well as to their partial dissolubility in organic solvents, it has been appealed to analytical methods: Infrared Absorption Spectroscopy (IR), X-Ray Difractometry (RX), Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (RMN), chromatography, mass spectrometry, emission spectrometry, neutron activation, differential thermic analyze, etc. (Neacsu 2003; Lhr 2004, Carlsen 1997).

Beck's studies (1986) based on FT-IR analyses (Fourier Transform Infrared) differentiated the Baltic amber from almost any other type, as a result of succinic acid identification in the composition; the method remained a "classical" one, with thousands of published samples; unfortunately, it appears the least applicable in Romania, due to the fact that the local amber specie - called rumanit - also contains succinic acid, pretty much in the same proportions (3-8%: Fraquet 1987; Stout 1995).

Of a particular interest is the fact that rumanit has a crystallization tendency (Neacsu 2003) - amber, generally, being amorphous - which, with the help of the difractometry might be highlighted. Another difference between succinit (Baltic amber) and rumanit, stressed out by previous investigations, is the melting point: 287-300 o for succinit (Stout 1995) and 330-350o rumanit (Fraquet 1987).

The contribution of the project for the knowledge development in the domain
In all the neighborhood countries, historically involved in the amber commerce, progresses of different amplitudes have been achieved in order to give scientifically substantiality to the studies regarding the distribution of amber artefacts in historical sites. Nevertheless, we are frequently talking about analyses performed abroad (especially USA), on relatively small lots, from which generalities with different credibility rates have been elaborated (Lithuania, Hungary, ex-Yugoslavia). The problem of differentiation between succinit - Baltic varieties of amber - and rumanit - the Carpathian varieties - has not made the object of a special study, the possible incidence of rumanit, in the respective territories being considered (may be too easily) as less probable. A research programme regarding the origin of the archaeological amber, in Romania, has the particularity that the presence of both species is perfectly plausible, being enforced to look for analytical means of differentiation, despite their very analogues properties; from the historical point of view (anthropologic, sociologic), the distinction between "local" and "foreign" goods depends on the fundamental professionally considerations. The project aims, therefore, to give solutions where, for now, only several theories have been postulated. The method will be according to the complexity of the problem. Firstly, FT-IR analyses will be performed, which represent, at international level, the most usual means of amber investigation. Complementary, difractometry analyses for all of the samples will be performed (this analyze is a non-destructive one), in order to highlight the "crystallization tendencies". When the samples' size will allow, we shall perform other analyses as well, among which:
  • use of Sherlock's (www.midi-inc.com) GC-FID chromatographic fingerprinting technique (license already owned by IFIN) with library generation software (LGS), Tracker and Data Analysis capabilities to create new geological and archaeological fossil resins databases;
  • GC-MS technique used for fossil resin volatile and pyrolysis organic compounds identification;
  • simultaneous thermal analysis TG/DTA and TG/DSC used also as fingerprinting technique;
  • gas chromatography (GC) with flame ionization detector (FID) and mass spectrometry detector (MS), thermic absorption detector (TD); the possible used techniques might be GC-MS or GC-FID, TD-GC-FID and TD-GC-MS.

Another general concept with which the project will operate, will be competitive analyses (cross-testing), namely the duplication of an analyze from another laboratory, in order to compare the results, due to the fact that FT-IR analyses may be performed in two of the laboratories form the project; the analyses will be performed for all the samples big enough, especially for amber with a controlled geologic origin.

Objectives of the project
    General objectives
  1. Establishing an interdisciplinary consortium capable of negotiating with the most difficult themes raised by the present archaeological and archaeometric investigation.
  2. The registration of raw materials from which adornment items were manufactured (non-metallic), in different historical epochs.
  3. The registration of possible raw materials sources of the adornments having an archaeological origin.
  4. Investigation of the origin of several materials (such as amber) through physicochemical analyses and the comparison term offered by samples with controlled geological origin.
  5. National and international dissemination of the scientific results of the project.
  6. The merge between our pursuit and similar projects undertaken abroad, and the access in international consortia.
    Specific objectives
  1. The maximum visibility of the project:
    • organization of a press conference on the occasion of the research project inauguration
    • opening of a web-site dedicated to the project, which will be launched as soon as possible, during the first month of the project
    • maximum usage of the existent communication networks, institutional (for example, "the museums' list" from CIMEC) and personnel, with the purpose of the registration, as soon as possible, of the amber items from the Romanian museum collections.
  2. Measuring of an eloquent lot of Romanian (rumanit) and Baltic (succinit) amber samples. The necessity of a big reference lot is required by the fact that there are identified and described over 100 of Baltic amber varieties, and over 40 Carpathian amber varieties, which come from 5 distinct areas. Very true, the previous measurements could not highlight differences at chemical composition level for the 5 Carpathian groups; the 40 amber varieties differentiate especially as regarding their chromatic texture and transparency characteristics, all these permanently affected by a complex of factors, including the keeping conditions (!); all these things are not clear enough, nor enough tested. The analyses on the reference lot have as main objective the discrimination of the physicochemical properties, eventually the discrimination of the age of formation.
  3. The measuring of equal archaeological amber lots. The execution interval of the project will be divided in working phases and sub-phases, dedicated to a certain historical epoch, as to draw the partial conclusion over the epoch at the end of each phase, and then scientifically communication to be written, which might be exploited in different situations.
  4. Immediate and effective dissemination of the scientifically obtained results:
    • immediate publishing of the partially obtained results, in journals from the country and abroad;
    • participation at international symposiums and conferences for the presentation of the scientifically obtained results;
    • organization of an international symposium;
    • publication of a volume with scientific communications, written in English.
  5. Building of an e-manual with raw materials comprised by the archaeological artefacts, especially non-metallic adornments. This objective has three components:
    • choosing a significant lot of archaeological items to be registered from a mineralogical point of view, following then to be photographed, measured, studied at macro- and microscopically level, described, with phases and sub-phases identical to the ones dedicated to the detailed study of amber pieces.
    • finding mineralogical samples similar to the archaeological ones, but without being processed, which, similarly, will be photographed, measured, described, with the mentioning of the geographical area where geological levels may be encountered, accessible to ancient societies;
    • realization of a map with the main raw materials of archaeological incidence.
    • The manual will be accessible to the large public, from the web-site of the project, on a dedicated section.

  6. Direct public actions, to promote the project and the interdisciplinary spirit:
    • a) dedicated exhibitions, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the project;
    • b) annual meetings with the students of the University of Bucharest (aiming especially the faculties of Geology, History, Physics, Chemistry, Biology), in order to identify the "inter-operability" resources.
      • For the proposed activities, we mention the following:
      • A) an Technological Chain of Analyze (TCA), which will be applied to all the amber pieces making the object of research:
        • piece identification, proprietor/ legal owner identification;
        • identifying the assay supportability (from 5 to 15 mg) for each case apart (depending on the proportion, friability, form) and authorization of the assay operation;
        • piece photographing and measuring, before and after the assay;
        • samples' assaying and their separation in analyze unities (depending on the established analytic profiles);
        • establishing of unique IDs, for each sample and each "analyze unit";
        • performing the difractogrametry for all of the samples (INCCR), for the "crystallization tendency" evaluation;
        • performing the FT-IR test (Infra Red Spectroscopy with Fourrier Transform; INSB and INCCR); depending on the obtained data it will be decided on supplementary tests;
        • supplementary tests, namely the highly performance liquid chromatography analyses (TLC, HPLC; INSB); high resolution gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS at IFIN-HH); nuclear magnetic resonance (RMN) (a third party laboratory).
      • B) The following types of activity (classified according to the Realization Plan, see infra):
        1. The establishing of the physicochemical characteristics for amber samples having a controlled origin.
        2. The realization of an on-line curators' manual, comprising:
          • the registration of raw materials encountered in the museum collections;
          • their illustration through archaeological examples and with unprocessed minerals;
          • practical advice for correct identification; d) the distribution area of the identified raw materials.
        3. Exhibitions intended to promote the values of the cultural and natural national heritage.
        4. Press conferences as to fully exploit the key moments of the project.
        5. Establishing of an Interdisciplinary Students' Association aimed at encouraging the interest of the future researchers for cooperation and extra-curricular themes.
        6. An international symposium thematically centered on the main directions of the project, which to create the premises of the consortium's integration in the continental scientific progress.
The viability and the risks of the project

The consortium is a consistent one. It comprises the most important archaeological and geological museums from the country, an academic authority as the Faculty of Geology from the University of Bucharest, and three laboratories with appropriate equipment and experienced personnel, from institutions with national relevance.

The main target of the consortium's activity - archaeological amber investigation - makes the object of numerous studies at international level, the results from Romania being expected to complete previous or recent investigations from Europe.

The secondary objective is as well important for the museums' development, namely the identification of the main raw materials, their scientific classification and the establishing of a cartographic support for the main category of materials.

The third proposed objective is the consolidation of interdisciplinary activities and the sustenance of the international cooperation, including the promoting of archaeometry among the students.

The involved risks come from the dynamic, indefinite and innovative character of high research, in an area in which the ideal analyze means are subject of controversy and dramatic changes.

Another risk is represented, at the present moment, by the lack of a national inventory of amber adornment items. The quantities of material present in the museums cannot be exactly stated, but only estimated; the same situation is encountered as well when talking of the museum management's reaction dealing with a collaboration proposal.

A third risk element would be the inexistence of amber samples with controlled origin, from perimeters considered to be of "small probability" (Libya, south of Italy, etc.) and the incapacity of acquiring a comparison term with a controlled geologic origin to several archaeological items. Nevertheless, there is the possibility of acquiring raw materials for analyze from the international market (be it commercial or academic).

The impact generated by the project

The kind of impact that this projects proposes is, apparently, a vague and theoretical one: interdisciplinarity; modern concept frequently used by the local scientific community, inter-institutional cooperation remained a lot behind good intentions, at least in the perimeter of the humanistic sciences, the historians continuing to make history, ethnographers ethnography, and linguistics linguistic. As regarding the cooperation of the historians with the exact sciences, although the desiderate has been frequently reiterated, the lack of financial resources oriented towards the scientific expertise made that the so-long expected progresses to be forever postponed for tomorrow. This project aims, in the most explicit way, of bringing funds in the archaeological and museum area of research, funds which, by even the nature of the project, to produce arhaeometric results and, especially, a growing eagerness for exact knowledge. Mutually, the challenges addressed to the scientific world by the numerous unknowns brought forward by the research investigation should stimulate the community of experimental sciences towards the generous galaxy of archaeometry.

It's a very well known fact that the museum presence in extensive research projects is very weak, although the majority of the archaeologists from Romania are employees of the museums; overcoming this inhibition is, may be, the most significant impact that we expect. Such an objective is with more important, due to great investment plans that announce extensive preventive archaeological investigations; facing such a perspective, the archaeologists have to leave behind the complexes and learn to seek the services that the scientific community might offer.

On the other hand, the necessary of archaeometric services, on Central and East-European market, as well as the existent "roles" on this market, are far from being established. The research institutes should be aware of this enormous on-growing market, and to occupy the advantageous positions for the race that it's about to start. Significantly, the frame programme for archaeology, within FP7, has not been yet generated, possible due to the uncommon complexity of the problem, but as well due to the peculiar versality of these projects, which make them difficult to circumscribe to traditional research domains.

^ top