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Saint Anselm students collect samples at archaeology dig site.Saint Anselm students collect archaeological samples at excavation site

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Professor Mary Kate Donais On X-Ray Fluorescence and Archaeology

May 07, 2015

The Academic Minute
May 7, 2015
Photos: Saint Anselm College

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Mary Kate Donais, Ph.D.Saint Anselm chemistry professor Mary Kate Donais, Ph.D. is working with x-ray fluorescence technology and tools that are helping archaeologists better preserve their findings at digs.

Professor Donais and her research was recently featured on The Academic Minute.

"'The current focus of Dr. Donais' research is the spectroscopic characterization of archaeological samples in collaboration with archaeologist Dr. David George of the Saint Anselm College Classics Department. To date, her research group has investigated mortars, cements, floor tiles, frescoes, and glass tesserae utilizing mostly atomic spectroscopy techniques. She has participated in four archaeological excavations in Italy thus far and looks forward to more in the future. Professor Donais is actively involved with the Society for Applied Spectroscopy (SAS) and the Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies and was honored as an SAS Fellow in 2014.'"

Discussing x-ray fluorescence innovations, Donais explained, "'When archaeologists examine an ancient wall or fresco, taking it back to the lab for analysis is slow, costly, and in some cases, prohibited. If we characterize the material without moving it-in situ-we gain information to help answer questions about who occupied the site, who visited it, and how it was constructed, but in a more efficient way because the sample remains intact and unaltered. My research uses a portable chemical instrument (an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer), or XRF, to analyze artifacts in the field.

"'XRF are gaining popularity for field archaeology. They help by adding physical scientific data to research that until now was based mostly in visual observation.'"

  • Read the full article "Mary Kary Donais, Saint Anselm College - X-Ray Fluorescence" in The Academic Minute »

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Mary Kate Donais, Chemistry
Professor Donais recently presented a discussion titled, "Characterization of the Structures at Sant'Ansano (Italy) using Portable Spectroscopy" at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics & Political Library.

"Undergraduates that go on the dig are trained in the protocols and two main instruments - a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, or XRF and Raman spectroscopy, which gives us elemental information - either ideally before we go, or in the first few days that they're there and they do that under my direction," said Prof. Donais. "And then once they've learned how to follow the protocols, I typically only stay at the dig for a couple of weeks, and then I leave the instrument and all the protocols with them and they report back and get me the data, but they continue on with it even while I'm not there. They're trained well enough to do that."

David George, Classics
Saint Anselm College Professor George appeared in Popular Archaeology in November 2014. In reference to the dig site in Allerona, George explained there was an excavation of Roman foundations beneath a 12th century church.

"We worked on the medieval graves that we discovered last year to remove the skeletons," the professor says. "These graves were undisturbed and allowed us to do archaeometric studies on the remains. One of the skeletons was curiously placed in his grave with a rock stuck in his mouth."

Professor George says this likely reflects a practice called maschalismos that seeks to make the dead incapable of haunting the living.

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