Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Brasso on New York dig?

A team of US students led by papyrologist Roger Bagnall of New York University is digging at the town of Amheida in Egypt which is the subject of a story in "Imaginova, Live Science". It is stated that:

The archaeologists at Amheida apply dental tools, Brasso metal polish and gentler chemicals to hundreds of Roman coins and sift through millions of potsherds, sorting and drawing some of them for records.
Brasso metal polish? Surely some mistake! In the Giacomo Belzoni textbook on field techniques (Manuale di scavo... 1824, just under the chapter on "dynamite as an excavation tool") we find the information that the declared ingredients of Brasso are 15-20% silica powder (abrasive), 5-10%ammonia , isopropyl alcohol 3-5%, and oxalic acid 0-3%. It however leaves a non-volatile oily film on the surfaces of objects on which it has been used (to prevent rapid tarnishing of exposed raw metal) which on analysis has been found to contain oleic acid andhexadecanoic (palmitic) acid.

As an archaeologist and former finds specialist, I really can think of no reason to "treat" excavated objects with "brasso", in fact I can think of more than a few why they should not be treated with such a product. I think we'd all be very interested to hear the US investigator's explanation of that reference. I have written to ask, but received no reply. All very odd. it makes you wonder what else these "archaeologists" are up to out in the desert as guests of a foreign country.

UPDATE 23rd July, still no reply to my polite email requesting clarification.

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