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Every week, millions of people watch TV shows about solving crimes with science. But did you know that chemists and archaeologists can work together to piece together an understanding of human behavior in antiquity? This talk will describe analytical chemistry research at Eastern Michigan University on historical and archaeological materials: colonial bricks, ancient rock paintings, tiny fragments of textiles. Learn about the questions that chemistry can — and can’t! — answer about people, technology, and materials from our ancient past.
While a chemistry student at Thiel College in Pennsylvania, Ruth Ann Armitage, now Professor of Chemistry here at Eastern Michigan University, participated in an archaeological field school that confirmed her desire to combine these seemingly disparate disciplines. She completed a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry at Texas A&M University on radiocarbon dating of charcoal-pigmented rock paintings. She has since worked with archaeologists at historic and prehistoric sites around the world. Dr. Armitage and her students develop mass spectrometry methods for characterizing rock paintings, dyes in textiles, and ceramic residues. Identifying these molecules from the past helps archaeologists better understand ancient materials.