Archaeological applications of natural gold analyses

Christoper D. Standish, Robert J. Chapman, N. R. Moles, Richard D. Walshaw, J. A. Sheridan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


Compositional studies of natural gold usually have a geological focus, but are also important in archaeological provenancing. Both methodologies rely on compositional comparison of two sets of samples, one of which is geographically constrained. Here we describe how experiences in gold characterization resulting from geological studies are relevant to archaeology. Microchemical characterization of polished sections of natural gold identifies alloy compositions, alloy heterogeneity and mineral inclusions. Gold from all deposit types shows Cu and Sn values much lower than those recorded during numerous studies of artefacts. Inclusions in artefact gold include various Cu- and Sn-bearing compounds which indicate specific high temperature reactions that could ultimately illuminate the conditions of (s)melting. The use of LA-ICP-MS to generate a wide range of elemental discriminants for provenance studies may be compromised by alloy adulteration and/or unrepresentative analysis of natural/artefact alloys, which are commonly highly heterogeneous at the micron scale. Geological studies normally characterize only the earliest-formed (hypogene) alloy, whereas archaeology-focused studies should entail analyses of bulk alloy compositions and impurities that may be incorporated during (s) melting. Isotopic-based provenancing alleviates many of these problems but, to date, generates regional rather than locality-specific targets. A dual isotopic–compositional approach is recommended.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCarbon Cycle and Ecosystem Response to the Jenkyns Event in the Early Toarcian (Jurassic)
EditorsM. Reolid, L. V. Duarte , E. Mattioli, W. Ruebsam
PublisherGeological Society
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)9781786205469
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021

Publication series

NameGeological Society, London, Special Publications
PublisherGeological Society of London
ISSN (Print)0305-8719


  • Geology
  • Ocean Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


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