PHILADELPHIA, PA, Summer 2011—It may look like a rather unassuming beige box, but the Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer (IR) is a vital piece of high technology scientific equipment, key to a host of exciting discoveries made, and no doubt to be made, at the Penn Museum.
That is why Dr. Patrick McGovern, Scientific Director of the Museum's Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory, was so delighted to receive the June 2011 donation of a "new" used Fourier-transform IR from The Hershey Company of Hershey, PA, replacing their current instrument, donated by the Dupont company in the mid-1990's, and rapidly growing obsolete.
"The infrared spectrometer has been both the starting point and the workhorse of our research programs," Dr. McGovern said. "It's helped make possible a range of exciting discoveries, from the earliest fermented beverages in the Near East and China, to ancient chocolate drinks from Central America, to a Royal Purple dye factory in Lebanon, once homeland of the Phoenicians, to medicinal wine for one of the earliest pharaohs of Egypt, and more."
The Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer is used to screen, and analyze, chemical compounds often found on or inside archaeological artifacts—providing for detailed analysis at the molecular level. From there, biomolecular archaeologists can move to additional stages in their analysis, using a variety of instruments, including gas and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, and incorporating information based on the archaeological context, ancient texts and art, ethnohistory and ethnography, and experimental archaeology in the present.
Although it had served science and archaeology well, the old Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer was beginning to show its age, proving more temperamental, no longer capable of supporting new software, and—most troubling—no longer technically supported by Thermo-Nicolet, the company that made it. Besides better reliability and serviceability, the new instrument has upgraded abilities, including increased sensitivity, precision and accuracy, especially for micro-samples.
"We are pleased that our infrared spectrometer will have a second life helping the Penn Museum unlock the mysteries of foods, beverages and other compounds from ancient civilizations," said Dan Azzara, Senior Vice President, Global Research & Development at The Hershey Company. "The spectrometer has served the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition well, helping our scientists identify the various molecules in the world's best-tasting chocolate. Now it will help museum scientists understand the foods, beverages and chemical compounds that defined daily life thousands of years ago.
Dr. W. Jeffrey Hurst, Principal Scientist at The Hershey Company, coordinated the high-technology donation. Dr. Hurst has also been closely involved with archaeochemistry and the Penn Museum, where he worked to confirm the presence of chocolate compounds in ancient Mayan pottery from the Museum's collection-helping to tell a sweet story in the Museum's recent Painted Metaphors exhibition.
Captions (Top image): The current staff of the Penn Museum's Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beer, and Health: (L-R) Theodore Davidson, Near East Consulting Scholar; Gretchen Hall, Near East Consulting Scholar; Patrick McGovern, Scientific Director; Joshua Henkin, volunteer, stand with their new "old" Thermo Fisher Nexus 670 Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FT-IR) donated by The Hershey Company. Patrick holds a bottle of a re-created cacao beverage, Theobroma, made by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Photo: Penn Museum. The new Thermo Fisher Nexus 670 Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FT-IR), donated by The Hershey Company, is installed in the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at the Penn Museum. The sample chamber is open. The computer for the unit is in the background. Photo: Penn Museum. A dry extracted ancient organic residue, dominated by tree resin, from inside an Etruscan amphora (ca. 525-475 BCE), which was imported to a trading post at Lattes in southern France. The importation of Italian wine set the stage for the first native production of grape wine in France. Photo: Penn Museum. (Bottom image) Gretchen Hall, Penn Museum Near East Consulting Scholar, inserts a residue sample into the diffuse reflectance accessory of the new infrared spectrometer. Photo: Penn Museum.