The Laser-ablation inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometer is an important tool to analyze samples taken from works of art. It is used for the direct surface analysis of solid samples. This instrument makes it possible to do isotope analysis on archaeological artifacts, such as Roman silver coins or Etruscan gold, allowing researchers to learn about the origins of the metallic materials. The technique requires no chemical preparation and does minimal damage to the sample. The isotope analysis technique shows isotope compositions that reveal fingerprints on a sample, as well as the sample’s source and production process. The analysis of elemental pollutants can provide useful archaeo-metallurgical information on the production process and the origin of metallic materials present on the sample. This instrument is also capable of performing another important study of ceramics from different geographical and geological areas. It is capable of performing analysis on rare earth elements (REEs), categorizing them into clay compositional groups in direct correspondence with the origin of production.
This incredible tool also makes it possible to study the sources of different types of marble by their isotopic compositions and through the analysis of trace elements. The study of rare earth elements (REEs) allows researchers to identify different types of pozzolana so as to understand the various volcanic districts and quarries of origin; for example researchers could identify the mortars used by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel and Raphael in his the Raphael Rooms. With LA-ICP-MS it is possible to perform chemical analysis on materials used, even volcanically-created obsidian artifacts, to determine the origins of each. This information will allow researchers to study the possible cultural relationships and patterns of movement among pre-historic populations. This instrument can be used to determine trace elements present in natural pigments, to study their origins and to distinguish between their different types. LA-ICP-MS allows a non-destructive analysis of archaeological objects, combining the best parts of the different classical methods in order to characterize these materials with high sensitivity and rapidity. LA-ICP-MS is a very powerful analytical tool and, at this time, is the only instrument of its kind that can non-destructively determine such an important number of elements with such low detection limits. This instrument is fundamentally necessary for a research laboratory that analyzes many different kinds of objects and materials from artwork.