Centre d’Élaboration de Matériaux et d’Etudes Structurales

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Ancient ceramics

New ideas from the past

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Various and deep analyses on heterogeneous archaeological remains are performed to study their manufacturing processes. The aim is not only to provide new insights for archaeologists and historians concerning the degree of sophistication and know-how of the civilizations that produced these artefacts, but also to show potential inputs in regard to the field of materials science. Thanks to the expertise of its researchers in several fields of physics and chemistry, the CEMES has the unique capacity both to conduct multi-scale investigations and to study the relationship between the hierarchical heterogeneous structure and the physical properties of these artefacts.


More specifically, CEMES’ contributions include the following know-how and capabilities :

  • structural and chemical studies of ancient materials ranging from the micrometric to the nanometric scale using different complementary techniques (electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, Raman spectroscopy and electron microprobe),
  • expertise in the use of synchrotron radiation (Full-field imaging, XRF, X-absorption, and diffraction) to investigate ancient materials in collaboration with synchrotron centres (ESRF-Grenoble, SSRL-USA and ALS-USA)


Although during the last years the CEMES has been involved in several studies concerning various types of objects (flint tools, ceramics, Roman nails, Gallic fibula), its main contributions have been on :

  • the heating treatment of flint (ANR ProMiTraSil with TRACES-Toulouse and CEPAM-Nice, and in collaboration with the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris)
  • the decorative surfaces of Roman potteries with the development of Full-field XANES analysis of this type of coatings in collaboration with GET-Toulouse, TRACES-Toulouse, ASM-Lattes, ESRF-Grenoble and SSRL-USA


Currently, we continue the methodological development based both on a multi-scale analysis and a decomposition into sub-systems according to the spatial distribution of their constituents and their overall heterogeneity. The XANES full-field technique is well adapted to analyse the heterogeneity of ancient ceramics and presently, we are involvement in a ESRF long term project (2015-2017) concerning the implementation of 3D XANES full-field at ESRF with Antwerp University (J. Koen, leader), Orsay University (B. Fayard), Utrecht University (F. Meirer), SSRL (A. Mehta) and ID21 team (M. Cotte, E. Pouyet). To study interfaces and the core of sub-systems we rely on TEM techniques developed at CEMES. We also rely on these techniques to study the magnetic properties of some iron oxides, which are often a maker for the manufacturing process. These oxides play a major role in the colour and within the "nanomaterials for spectrometry" activity of nanoMat we plan to study their optical properties.

Since 2 years we extend our area of investigation to industrial heritage materials. By relying on CEMES skills (MC2 group) and in association with CIRIMAT-Toulouse, TRACES, FRAMESPA-Toulouse, LLB-Saclay and SOLEIL-Synchrotron, and crossing laboratory analyses and archives researches, we are starting a program concerning “old” duralumin used in airplanes. This project is carried out in partnership with les Ailes Anciennes (Toulouse), le Musée de l’air et de l’espace (Le Bourget) and l’Institut pour l’histoire de l’aluminium (Clichy).


Contact : philippe.sciau chez cemes.fr


Selected publications

  • Synchrotron radiation-based multi-analytical approach for studying underglaze color : The microstructure of Chinese Qinghua blue decors (Ming dynasty). T. Wang, T.Q. Zhu, Z.Y. Feng, B. Fayard, E. Pouyet, M. Cotte, W. De Nolf, M. Salomé, Ph. Sciau (2016). Analytica Chimica Acta. (DOI : 10.1016/j.aca.2016.04.053).
  • Raman spectroscopy analysis of Terra Sigillata : the yellow pigment of marbled sigillata. T. Wang, C. Sanchez, J. Groenen, Ph. Sciau (2016). J. Raman Spectrosc. (DOI : 10.1002/jrs.4906).
  • Ceramics in art and archaeology : a review of the materials science aspects. Ph. Sciau, Ph. Goudeau (2015). Eur. Phys. J. B 88, 132 (DOI : 10.1140/epjb/e2015-60253-8).
  • Evolution of terra sigillata technology from Italy to Gaul through a multi-technique approach. Y. Leon, Ph. Sciau, M. Passelac, C. Sanchez, R. Sablayrolles, Ph. Goudeau (2015). J. Anal. At. Spectrom. 30 (3), 658-665 (DOI : 10.1039/C4JA00367E).
  • Learning from the past : Rare ε-Fe2O3 in the ancient black-glazed Jian (Tenmoku) wares. C. Dejoie, Ph. Sciau, W. Li, L. Noé, A. Mehta, K. Chen, H. Luo, M. Kunz, N. Tamura, Z. Liu (2014). Sci. Rep. 4, 4941 (DOI:10.1038/srep04941).
  • Full-field XANES analysis of Roman ceramics to estimate firing conditions—A novel probe to study hierarchical heterogeneous materials. F. Meirer, Y. Liu, E. Pouyet, B. Fayard, M. Cotte, C. Sanchez, J. C. Andrews, A. Mehta, Ph. Sciau (2013). J. Anal. At. Spectrom. 28 (12), 1870–1883 (DOI : 10.1039/c3ja50226k).
  • TEM characterization of the fine scale microstructure of a Roman ferrous nail. J. Douin, O. Henry, F. Dabosi, Ph. Sciau (2010). Eur. Phys. J. Appl. Phys. 51, 10902 (one line, DOI : 10.1051/epjap/2010074).
  • Nanoparticles in ancient materials : the metallic lustre decorations of medieval ceramics. Ph. Sciau. In The delivery of Nanoparticles (Abbass Hashim (Ed.), InTech, 2012, ISBN 979-953-51-0615-9). pp. 525-540 (http://www.intechopen.com/books/the-delivery-of-nanoparticles)