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Minimally-invasive analytical techniques for art and

archaeological research

Marguerite Caycedo
Literature thesis
January 2013

Program: Msc. Analytical Sciences, Universiteit van Amsterdam and Vrije Universiteit
Supervisors: Wim Kok and Freek Ariese
Cover photo: This past summer an elderly woman took it upon herself to restore a 19

century religious painting in a church near Zaragoza, Spain. The result is seen on the right.
Summary: Three analytical techniques were discussed in the context of research in the fields
of art and archaeology. LIBS, OCT, and LA-ICP-MS are all minimally-invasive analysis
techniques, which is important when working with fragile works of art or archaeological
artefacts. These three techniques are becoming more popular in this field, and each of them
has been found to have great potential for future research.

MSc Chemistry
Analytical Sciences

Literature Thesis

Minimally-invasive analytical techniques for art and
archaeological research


Marguerite Caycedo

January 2013

Dhr. dr. Wim Kok
Dhr. dr. Freek Ariese


Abbreviations and acronyms ................................................................................................................ 5
1. Introduction ....................................................................................................................................... 6
2. Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy ........................................................................................ 8
2.1 History and development ...................................................................................................... 8
2.2 Theory and technique ........................................................................................................... 8
2.3 A closer look at the ablation process and important parameters ........................................ 9
2.4 Other aspects of LIBS ......................................................................................................... 10
2.4.1 Quantitative analysis ............................................................................................................. 10
2.4.2 Depth profiling ..................................................................................................................... 10
2.5 LIBS in combination with other techniques ........................................................................ 11
2.6 Application to art and archaeological research ................................................................ 13
2.7 Advantages and disadvantages / comparison to other techniques ..................................... 14
3. Optical Coherence Tomography .................................................................................................... 15
3.1 History and development .................................................................................................... 15
3.2 Theory and technique ......................................................................................................... 16
3.3 Other aspects of OCT ......................................................................................................... 18
3.4 Applications to art and archaeological research ............................................................... 19
3.5 Advantages and disadvantages / comparison to other techniques .................................... 21
4. Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry ............................................. 22
4.1 History and development .................................................................................................... 22
4.2 Theory and technique ......................................................................................................... 22
4.3 Other aspects of LA-ICP-MS .............................................................................................. 24
4.3.1 Interferences ......................................................................................................................... 24
4.3.2 Spatially resolved analysis .................................................................................................... 24
4.4 LA-ICP-MS in combination with other techniques ............................................................ 25
4.5 Application to art and archaeological research ................................................................ 25
4.6 Advantages and disadvantages / comparison to other techniques ..................................... 28
5. Conclusion ........................................................................................................................................ 29
References ............................................................................................................................................. 30

Abbreviations and acronyms

AES Atomic Emission Spectroscopy
FD-OCT Fourier Domain-Optical Coherence Tomography
FT Fourier Transform
ICP Inductively Coupled Plasma
ICP-AES Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectroscopy
INAA Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis
IR Infrared
LA-ICP-MS Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry
LIBS Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy
LIF Laser Induced Fluorescence
OCT Optical Coherence Tomography
PIXE Particle Induced X-Ray Emission
SD-OCT Spectral Domain-Optical Coherence Tomography
SEM-EDX Scanning Electron Microscope-Energy Dispersive X-Ray
SERS Surface Enhanced Raman Spectrcoscopy
SLD Superluminescent Diode
TD-OCT Time Domain-Optical Coherence Tomography
XRF X-Ray Fluorescence

1. Introduction

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things but their inward
significance Aristotle.
It seems that ever since human beings have been able to hold something between their thumb
and forefinger, they have created art in some form or other. As far back as Aristotles ancient
Greece, if not before, we have been trying to understand the meaning of art, why it is made,
and why it is important. Creating art is a universal human reaction, but is often very
characteristic of a certain culture and religion. Art in combination with customs and
traditions passed on from previous generations is then termed Cultural Heritage, and is
important for a feeling of coherence and belonging in a group of people of the same cultural
background. It remains difficult to explain exactly why people are compelled to create art,
but Aristotles approach is a nice one and can certainly help to explain the continued
fascination for art from the past to this day: it gives us an idea of how people have interpreted
life through the ages, and can maybe help us understand it a little bit better ourselves.
That being said, Aristotles quote is also a nice way to introduce that other inward
significance of art: its chemical composition. Tangible artefacts of Cultural Heritage (wall
paintings, totem poles, religious masks, oil paintings, jewellery) all have unique chemistries
that will have reacted differently to the inevitable consequences of time. The notion of
restoring and conserving works of art to preserve them for future generations has been around
since the 1800s.
Over the years it has become evident that to properly restore a work of art,
knowledge of its chemical composition and the state of its decay is paramount. It is in this
way that the fields of analytical chemistry and art history and archaeology come together.
Analytical research can help to provide answers to the questions of where, when, and by
whom a work of art or archaeological artefact was made, helping us to understand more about
the history of the object and of course also for authentication purposes.
Analytical research in art and archaeology
The British Museum was the first to appoint a scientist specifically for the purpose of tending
to works of art. This was in 1920 as the result of the First World War, as many works of art
had been kept in unsuitable storage spaces underground for protection.
However it was not
until the 1960s that analytical techniques began to be fully incorporated into art and
archaeological research.
Since then, a great number of institutes and laboratories have been
opened specifically for this purpose, and a number of techniques have become ubiquitous to
the field. X-Ray fluorescence (XRF) and particle induced X-Ray emission (PIXE) are used
often for elemental analysis and fingerprinting of objects, as is atomic absorption
spectroscopy (AAS) and various forms of mass spectrometry (MS). For molecular
specification UV-VIS, laser induced fluorescence (LIF), infrared (IR) and Raman
spectroscopies are applied.
These are just a few examples of the many analytical
techniques that have been found to be useful in this field. It will depend strongly on the
object being studied, its chemical composition, the state it is in, whether sampling is possible

or not, and the information desired, which technique is the most appropriate, and this should
be carefully determined beforehand.
When conducting chemical analytical research on art and archaeological artefacts, one of the
most critical issues is that the least amount of damage is done to the work at hand.
Sometimes it is possible to take small samples for analysis, but it is also sometimes the case
that this is not possible at all. In any event, it is always the goal in art research to obtain the
most information with the least amount of damage done to the object. In this paper, three
techniques are discussed that are relatively new to the field of art and archaeological research.
Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) and Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled
Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) make use of laser ablation sampling and are
termed micro-invasive techniques, because the miniscule craters formed in the process are
invisible to the naked eye but are nevertheless invasive to the object. Both techniques are
elemental analysis techniques and are widely applicable. Optical Coherence Tomography
(OCT) is an optical imaging technique that is purely non-invasive. The use of OCT carries
the requirement that the sample be (semi-) transparent, and so this technique has a more
limited applicability in this field.
The three techniques discussed here were chosen because they are relatively new to the field,
having found a broader application only in the last decade or so. As will become clear during
the course of this study, there is still room for development and improvement for each of
these techniques, especially in the area of quantitative analysis, which is bound to be difficult
for non-contact or micro- invasive techniques. It is also important to note that the questions
surrounding an object of art can often not be answered by one analytical technique alone, and
most often a variety of complementary techniques are combined with historical knowledge to
reach a conclusion. The information then obtained is invaluable to our understanding of
objects from the past, and for their preservation so that future generations can continue to
learn from and be inspired by them.

2. Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy

2.1 History and development
The most important aspect of Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) is the laser,
and so the history of the technique is tied to the development of the first lasers, beginning
with Einsteins ideas and developed into the first ruby lasers in the 1960s.
Runge et al.
performed the first spectral analysis by LIBS in 1964, but in these early systems the laser was
used only for ablation and excitation was induced by an electric arc. The technique really
started to gain popularity in the 1980s when lasers were improved and more sensitive CCD
detectors were developed, as well as intensified CCD detectors for time-gated detection.

2.2 Theory and technique
Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy is based on the technique of breaking down or
ablating a very small amount of sample with the help of a laser. Simply put, a pulsed laser
is focused through a focusing lens onto the sample surface (in the case of solids and liquids),
irradiating it for a few nanoseconds (typically) and causing ablation of the irradiated material
into a plasma that contains the elemental information of the sample.
This elemental
information exists in the form of ions, atoms, free electrons and molecular fragments, which
have been vaporized by the laser pulse. Within the few nanoseconds of the pulse, its energy
sustains the high temperature plasma and causes the fragmented particles to become excited
and consequently to emit electromagnetic radiation.
An optical fiber or lens system can
then collect the light emitted from the plasma and transfer it to the spectrograph.
Figure 1 shows a simple LIBS setup, featuring the laser source, focusing mirror, optical fibers
leading to the spectrograph, detector, and the computer screen.

Figure 1. Schematic diagram of a simple LIBS system. (a) laser source and cooler; (b) pulsed laser head; (c)
mirror; (d) focusing lens; (e) excitation chamber; (f) sample; (g) collecting optics; (h) optical fiber; (i) detector
trigger signal; (j) wavelength selector; (k) detector array; (l) microcomputer.
The nature of the ablation process requires the spectrograph to contain an ICCD detector for
the possibility of time-gated detection. When the laser pulse first reaches the sample, it will
initially heat the electrons at the surface of the sample. The very hot ones evaporate
immediately, and the others heat the sample through collisions with the sample atoms. What
follows is a melting of the irradiated surface, followed by an explosion-like evaporation to
form the plasma, which will contain the elemental information in the form of molecules,
clusters and ions.
However right after the laser reaches the sample, there is not a real
464 Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy J. Braz. Chem. Soc.
samples and some type of treatment must precede their
presentation for analysis. Although the measurement step
is rapid, precise and sensitive, sample treatment is often
slow, cumbersome and prone to induce errors due to
contamination and losses. Furthermore, the necessity of
sample treatment limits the use of these techniques in the
field, a requirement increasingly under investigation to
match the interests of the Environmental Chemistry,
Process Analytical Chemistry, Forensic Analysis,
Archaeological Analysis and many others areas of science
that present sound arguments to make a reality of the
dream of take the instrument to the untouched sample
and not the inverse.
Of course many efforts have been devoted to minimize
or even eliminate the necessity of sample treatment. A
good example is the use of electrical arcs or sparks for
vaporization and excitation of conductive samples such
as metallic alloys. With the limitation of applicability to
conductive samples, the technique of the classic
spectrography, carried out with modern instrumentation,
is capable of producing impressive results and portable
instruments have been developed to permit in situ analysis
with high precision and accuracy, although with only
moderate detectivities.
This review describes a modern analytical technique
based on emission spectroscopy that employs a short pulse
of high energy radiation generated by a laser focused on
a sample, in order to attain representative vaporization
and excitation. The technique is named Laser Induced
Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) and numerous
and three recent text books
have already
been published addressing both general and specific
aspects, in the relatively short period after the technique
had undergone a renewed interest in the beginnings of the
eighties. On the other hand, the technique has recently
experienced an exponential growth in interest, reflected
by an increasing number of publications, and, apparently,
its niche in the general field of Analytical Chemistry are
ready to be defined. Therefore, the expectation of the
present review on the fundamentals, instrumentation and
applications of LIBS, including most recent achievements,
is to help those who want to be introduced to the technique
while providing up-to-date information on
instrumentation, applications and its real potential for
micro and remote essentially non-destructive and direct
1.1. LIBS technique outline
Simplicity is one of the main characteristics of a LIBS
system. The necessary instrumentation can be summarized
as depicted in Figure 1, as a short duration (ca. 5 ns or
shorter) pulsed laser, a focusing lens, collecting optics
for the emitted radiation, a wavelength analyzer and a
detector, all computer controlled. The simplest way to
produce the analytical information (spectral lines of
emission generated by the analytes) using LIBS is to fire
a single laser pulse on a solid sample. The impinged
radiant energy of the pulse must be higher than the
breakdown energy for the sample material. Thus, in the
first instants, the atomic and molecular structure of the
sample will be broken and heated, causing vaporization
of a small fraction of the material (from hundreds of ng
to a few g). This vaporized material may contain free
neutral atoms, ions, molecular fragments and free
electrons. Further the incoming energy of the same laser
pulse can sustain high temperature plasma (> 10,000 K)
in which the vaporized species can be excited and return
later to their less energetic levels by emitting
electromagnetic radiation. These wavelengths can be
selectively associated to the presence of the analytes and
whose intensity is proportional to their content in the
sample. Despite being generated by distinct phenomena,
data analysis and interpretation are made much in the same
way as in the old arc/spark excitation spectroscopy as well
as in modern ICP OES instruments. Of course, the sample,
in the case of LIBS, does not need to be conductive.
1.2. Historical summary
The laser is the fundamental and distinctive part of
the LIBS instrument. Therefore, this techniques history
passes, initially, by the theory of stimulated emission of
radiation proposed by Einstein early in 1917,
which later
made the laser existence possible. The first insight on a
laser operating in the visible spectrum range was due to
Shawlow and Townes in 1958.
Maiman constructed the
first ruby laser employing optical pumping in 1960
Figure 1. Schematic diagram of a simple LIBS system.(a) laser source
and cooler; (b) pulsed laser head; (c) mirror; (d) focusing lens; (e) excita-
tion chamber; (f) sample; (g) collecting optics; (h) optical fiber; (i) detec-
tor trigger signal; (j) wavelength selector; (k) detector array and (l) mi-

plasma but only a high-density electron cloud giving off a signal. This will result in a very
broad and un-informative spectrum. A gated detector will enable one to begin recording a
spectrum about 1 s after the of the laser pulse reaches the sample, when emission lines from
the elements in the sample will be visible.
A gated ICCD detector can also be useful in
blocking out stray light in between laser pulses.
The ablated material will typically be on the order of 100 ng to a few g, leaving a small
crater on the surface of solid samples that is invisible to the naked eye.
This is a very
valuable characteristic of LIBS, making it attractive for a wide range of purposes, among
them of course art and archaeological research.
An important distinguishing factor of LIBS is that the same laser source is used to ablate
AND excite the sample.
In regular LIBS this is done even within the same ns order pulse.
A LIBS spectrum can thus be obtained within a second or less, which is another one of its
great advantages. A double pulse technique can also be used in which a first pulse ablates the
sample to form the plasma, and the second one excites the particles inside the plasma for
emission. This dual-pulse technique has been observed to enhance emission signals and
improve signal to noise ratios, though the reasons for this phenomenon are not entirely

2.3 A closer look at the ablation process and important parameters
There are various factors that will have an effect on the ablation process of solid samples
(which is most likely what one will be dealing with when doing art research), and it is worth
taking a closer look at these parameters and the effect they can have.
First of all the laser is an important variable parameter. When analysing solid samples it is
absolutely necessary to use a pulsed laser instead of a continuous wave. Continuous
irradiation of the sample could cause serious damage, especially to fragile works of art.
Furthermore the irradiated sample could start to melt and heat areas around it, changing the
composition of the analysed area.
One would have to use much lower intensities of
irradiation with continuous wave lasers, which would not cause the same explosion-like
evaporation process so effective for ablation.
Pulses of about 5 ns are most often used for LIBS, as this is short enough to allow the use of a
laser intensity that is strong enough to cause ablation.
Reducing the pulse length to the
order of picoseconds or femtoseconds will also reduce the dispersion of heat by collisions
between the high-energy electrons on the surface and the atoms of the sample. This will
result in less melting of the irradiated region (before ablation) and consequently there will be
less fractionation possible in the liquid phase, and a shallower crater is formed.

The wavelength of the laser is another parameter that is quite critical for LIBS analysis, as
this will have an effect on the level of absorption and scattering of the sample. A high
absorption of the laser beam will mean that a much thinner sample layer is removed upon
ablation, thus increasing the depth resolution.
In any case it is clear that different matrices
will react differently to ablation and to irradiation with a laser of a particular wavelength, and
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it is always important to take this into account and adjust all of the experimental parameters

2.4 Other aspects of LIBS
2.4.1 Quantitative analysis
As a qualitative technique for the determination of elemental information, LIBS has proven to
be a very valuable tool. Acquiring quantitative information however is somewhat more
problematic. Theoretically, the peak intensity in the resulting spectrum can relate to the
amount of elemental species in the vaporized plume and consequently to the concentration of
the element in the ablated sample material.
However in practice quantitative analysis is
more complicated as calibration with reference materials is necessary and inhomogeneities in
the sample can be problematic.
Colao et al. did a quantitative study on medieval glazed pottery samples, which present a
number of difficulties. First of all, distinguishing exactly between the numerous layers of
pigments and glazes is difficult, especially since some elements are abundant in different
layers of glaze of which the thickness is unknown. Inhomogeneities in the sample can also
cause problems. In this case a SEM measurement made it clear that the glaze was not
distributed equally over the sample, and was thicker in some places than others and also
included air bubbles. This was partially solved by making use of calibration lines and
averaging data from different ablation points on the sample.

Violeta Lazic et al. tried to overcome difficulties in the quantitative analysis of ancient
Mediterranean marbles, by using calibration standards of CaCO
. This proved to be difficult
however as the spectra of these standards and of the analysed material were not very similar,
especially as far as emission intensities and plasma parameters were concerned. This can be
attributed to the fact that the calibration samples were quite different in chemical and physical
composition from the natural marbles, a factor which is critical for achieving similar sample
ablation and emission and getting accurate quantitative results.
It was therefore necessary
to introduce a number of corrections regarding the temperature of the plasma, the electron
density and the ablation rate, parameters which can have a large effect on emission intensities.
These corrections were applied in the form of calculations for the deviations in the
aforementioned parameters.

Various other studies have been done to obtain quantitative information from LIBS
It remains however a much less straightforward tool than the qualitative
aspect of LIBS.
2.4.2 Depth profiling
Depth profiling of various material layers is another valuable application for LIBS. It can be
achieved simply by applying multiple laser pulses at the same spot and recording spectra for
each pulse. A small layer of pigment, paint, glaze, etc., will be ablated with each pulse,
leaving the material underneath exposed to be analysed with the next.
Paint and varnish
layers are typically about 5 to 50 m thick, and on average about 0.5 to 2 m is ablated with
each pulse. This technique can be used to analyse the different layers of paintings, glazed
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pottery, polychrome artworks, marble and metal objects.

For restoration purposes this
information can be essential, as knowledge of the composition of the artwork and the
occurrence of different layers of materials is important for implementing the correct
restoration procedure.

Figure 2. LIBS spectrum of a Bronze Age plaster sample from Thebes. Inset: first (a) and second (b) pulse
LIBS spectra indicating weak emission of Fe in the first and increase of silicon emission in the second.
2.5 LIBS in combination with other techniques
Since the elemental information provided by LIBS is sometimes not sufficient to identify
specific molecular compounds, studies have been done in which LIBS is combined with other
spectroscopic techniques such as Raman microscopy, laser-induced fluorescence
spectroscopy, time-of-flight mass spectrometry, amongst others.
The combination of
two complementary techniques can then provide a more complete analytical picture of the
work being studied.
Raman spectroscopy provides molecular information on a sample by recording the energy
difference between the incident light from a laser beam and the inelastically scattered light
from the sample.
Similarly to LIBS, it does not require sample preparation, it is highly
sensitive (especially in resonance mode), and it has a high spatial resolution due to the
possibility of laser focusing.
It has proven to be a valuable tool for identifying the
molecular properties of various types of art, especially pigments and paint dyes.
combined forces of Raman and LIBS can thus provide complimentary information and
confirm the data provided by each one.
Burgio et al. combined Raman and LIBS for the
identification of pigments in 19
century paintings from Greece and France. Two separate
systems for the two techniques were used in this case, where the information from each was
combined with art historical knowledge of pigment dating to identify a wide range of
pigments as well as confirm a tentative dating of the works.

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More recently, setups that combine Raman and LIBS in the same system have been
In these, the same laser source is used for both Raman and LIBS analysis;
for Raman a lower intensity pulse is applied and the scattered light is recorded with a
spectrograph and ICCD detector, and for LIBS a higher intensity pulse is applied to form a
plasma plume of ablated material. The ICCD detector is essential, as stated earlier, for
allowing time-gated detection, especially of the LIBS analysis, as the broad background
signal from the large electron density directly after the laser pulse must be filtered out. It is
also valuable in filtering out a luminescence signal during the Raman measurement by
applying time-resolved Raman analysis.
Osticioli et al. used a combined Raman-LIBS
setup to perform analyses on a mural painting, a piece of a decorative tile, and a bronze

Fi gure 3. General scheme of a combined Raman-LIBS setup.

Laser Induced Fluorescence is another molecular spectroscopic technique that is being used
more and more frequently in combination with LIBS.
In LIF, a monochromatic laser
source is used to excite the sample, after which it will emit a characteristic radiation which is
collected by a spectrograph. The emitted radiation may be characteristic of a certain
compound, or it can be used to study the ageing and condition of varnishes.
The use of
lasers instead of regular lamp-based fluorescence is preferable in this context as lasers are
more spatially precise and can be used in the pulsed form to achieve resolution in time. LIF
can usually not be used for specific identification purposes of unknown substances, because
of the occurrence of multiple fluorophores and the similarity of the fluorescence spectrum of
many substances. It can therefore only be used in specific cases where the emitted
fluorescence is very characteristic, or in the case of studying differences over time due to
ageing or pollution.
The combination of LIBS and LIF is ideal due to their similarities in
experimental setup and the complimentary analysis that they provide, providing a much more
complete analysis of a work of art than either one would separately.
In 2009, Osticioli et al. even proposed a system in which LIBS, Raman and LIF are combined
in one instrument and uses a single pulsed laser source.

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2.6 Application to art and archaeological research
All of the aspects of LIBS that make it attractive for other fields of research make it a
valuable tool for art and archaeological research as well. The micro-destructive nature,
analysis speed, the ability for in-situ analysis, and the fact that it does not require direct
contact with the sample are all characteristics of a technique that would work well in this
field. Especially over the last ten years, LIBS has been applied to a very wide variety of case
studies for the elemental analysis of works of art. As stated earlier, quantitative analysis can
still be problematic, and in most cases LIBS is used mainly qualitatively.
The first instance of LIBS being used for art historical analytical research was in 1972, when
John Asmus was granted the task of cleaning Venetian marble statues by using a laser to
ablate the black crusts that had accumulated over the years.
In this first case the main goal
was cleaning the statues through laser ablation of the unwanted top layer, which is still
applied for the cleaning of a wide range of archaeological artifacts.
LIBS adds an extra
dimension to laser cleaning as it can provide on-line elemental analysis and feedback during
the cleaning process. Lazic et al. used this technique for monitoring the cleaning of black
crusts off of marble statues, caused by environmental pollution. Researchers have become
aware of the fact that over-cleaning a work of art, especially artifacts like sculptures and
buildings that are constantly exposed to the elements, can be extremely harmful and cause
further and faster deterioration. In this case LIBS was used to monitor the elemental
composition of the ablated material, so that it would be immediately obvious when the
undesired top layer had been sufficiently removed and to avoid removal of a layer from the
actual artwork.

Castillejo et al. applied LIBS to monitor the laser cleaning process of 14
century Spanish
polychromes on wood, as well as to gain elemental insight into the pigments used.
applying a number of pulses after each other at the same position, it was possible to
distinguish between the polluted top layer and various layers underneath, combining the
elemental information provided by LIBS with the knowledge of the pigments commonly used
in that region in the 14
century. Lopez et al. did a similar depth profiling study of 17

century Baroque Spanish wood polychromes with LIBS.

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P. Pouli et al. used LIBS for a depth profile study of the protective layers of historic metal
objects (acrylic resin varnishes, cellulose nitrate coatings and waxes), in which knowledge of
the material composition and of the state that these protective layers are in is again stressed as
extremely important for effective restoration and preservation.
In this study the thickness
of the coating layers was measured by determining how many laser pulses were applied
before reaching the metal artifact (essentially a type of on-line monitoring as well).
As a qualitative tool, LIBS has furthermore been used to characterize the elemental
composition of metal artifacts from a Romanian monastery
, 19th century daguerreotypes
, Roman ceramics
, cinematic film
, oil paintings
, to name just a few specific
studies. Lazic et al. even did a LIBS study on archaeological artifacts under water, in which
they made use of dual pulse laser excitation and two lenses to achieve tighter focusing and
narrower and more intense spectral emission.
It is important to note that many studies combine the qualitative, quantitative and depth-
profiling aspects of LIBS, and it is sometimes combined with other techniques as well to give
a more complete analytical picture.
2.7 Advantages and disadvantages / comparison to other techniques
As can be deduced from the many applications of LIBS to art and archaeological research
that have been illustrated, it has many advantages for analysis in this field. One of the
biggest issues in the analysis of artworks is the taking of samples, which is often either not
allowed or not possible. A big advantage of LIBS is then that sampling is minimal and a
sample does not have to be removed from the object prior to analysis. The amount of
material ablated in a single pulse is tiny (20-200 ng), and the crater left behind is invisible to
the naked eye.
The instrumentation is straightforward and allows for in-situ analysis and
the possibility of portable instruments, for example for the analysis of buildings and outdoor
statues or artworks that cannot be moved.
However the very small samples that are analysed in a single pulse can also be viewed as a
disadvantage, as inhomogeneities in the sample could have a disproportionate effect on the
analysis results.
It can therefore be necessary to take multiple spectra in different positions
to be sure of accurate data. Luckily the analysis speed of LIBS is extremely fast so this can
be correlated with the efcient cleaning observed at this
wavelength. The darkening of the red paint upon irradiation
at 1064 nm is likely to be responsible for the decrease of the
overall uorescence intensity as observed in Fig. 1a. The
relative increase of intensity of the band at 650 nm, in the
case of the green paint, and the increase of the overall uo-
rescence of the yellow areas could also be in correspondence
with the cleaning observed upon irradiation at 266 nm. As in
previous studies [9,15,19], the modications induced in the
uorescence spectra by laser irradiation are rationalized in
terms of the absorption either of the excitation laser beam
and/or of the induced uorescence from the inner pigment
layers by passage through the contamination layer.
4.2. LIBS measurements
Fig. 2 shows a relevant portion of the LIB spectrum
obtained after successive laser pulses in a painted red area.
The spectrum recorded after the rst laser pulse contains
emissions assigned to neutral atomic Ca, and to the C
molecule around 560 nm. These emissions are characteristic
of the contamination external layer as they appear in all
recorded spectra, regardless of the colour of the surface. In
particular the molecular emissions reveal the presence of
organic material. A line at 546.07 nm is evident after irradia-
tion of the surface with four laser pulses. Lines at 312.57
313.18, 365.01, 404.66 and 435.83 nm (not shown in Fig. 2)
also appear after delivering four pulses. These lines are due to
Hg emissions and indicate the presence of a mercury-
containing pigment in a deeper layer of the sample. As shown
in Fig. 2, the intensity of Hg lines increase relatively to Ca
and organic emissions as successive pulses are delivered over
the surface. This effect reveals the changes in layer compo-
sition and the potential of LIBS for stratigraphic character-
ization. The LIB spectra of the green coloured areas, Fig. 3,
reveal the presence of copper by virtue of emission lines
characteristic of Cu (324.75, 327.39 nm) and therefore the
use of a copper-based pigment compound. The intensity of
the Cu lines relative to other Ca, Mg andAl atomic emissions
increases monotonically with the number of 266 nm laser
pulses indicating the removal of the contaminant layer as
laser irradiation of the surface proceeds.
The LIB spectra of the yellow areas (not shown) display
emission lines at 274.50, 278.02, 286.04 and 289.87 nm.
These lines, although weak and partially masked due to the
intense signal from Mg, are attributed to arsenic and reveal
the presence of an arsenic-based pigment.
4.3. FT-Raman measurements
Representative FT-Raman spectra of the four coloured
areas of the samples are displayed in Fig. 4. The Raman
spectrum of the red paint (Fig. 4a) shows a group of lines in
the 200400 cm
region. LIB spectra of this painted region
yielded Hg lines suggesting the presence of a mercury-based
pigment that has been identied as mercuric sulphide, ver-
milion, HgS [18]. This assignment also matches the indica-
tions provided by the corresponding LIF spectra, containing
a band at 600 nmthat suggested the presence of this pigment.
A weak band at 1007 cm
is due to gypsum (CaSO
The spectrum also contains bands at 1325 and 1580 cm
characteristic of amorphous carbon [18]. Gypsum and a
carbonaceous deposit could be the origin of the Ca and C
emissions, respectively, that were observed in the LIB spec-
tra of the same sample. The intensity of the vermilion pig-
ment lines increases upon irradiation with the fourth har-
monic of the laser at 266 nm. Irradiation at the three other
wavelengths only results in an enhancement of the blackbody
emission at longer wavenumbers. The Raman spectral modi-
cations can be correlated with laser cleaning observed at
266 nm and the darkening that is caused when the sample
surface is irradiated at longer wavelengths. The increased
continuous signal in the Raman spectra indicates a higher
contribution of blackbody emission, which is likely to be due
to a more efcient absorption of the exciting laser light at
1064 nm and a consequently higher temperature of the laser
treated surface.
Although the LIB spectra of the green painted samples
indicated the presence of a copper containing pigment, their
Fig. 2. LIB spectra taken after the indicated number of successive laser
pulses (266 nm) impinge on a red area of the polychrome.
Fig. 3. As in Fig. 2, LIB spectra for a green area of the polychrome.
246 M. Castillejo et al. / Journal of Cultural Heritage 4 (2003) 243249
Figure 4. LIBS spectra taken after the indicated
number of successive laser pulses as performed by
Castillejo et al. on a green area of the polychrome.
Increase of relative intensity of Cu lines (indicating
the use of a Cu based green pigment compound)
compared to Ca, Mg and Al lines reveals the
removal of the contaminant top layer.
1 5

be done easily. Another disadvantage is that one has to be careful with the shockwave
produced by the laser during LIBS. Already flaky or cracked paint layers could be damaged
further due to the impact of the laser, for example.

Finally, elemental analysis might not be sufficient for an artefact in which the same element
is included in different substances and layers throughout the sample. Combined analysis of
LIBS with other molecular analysis techniques such as Raman or Laser Induced Fluorescence
spectroscopy could be very helpful in these instances.
LIBS compares favourably to a number of the more conventional elemental analysis
techniques used in art research. SEM-EDX is ideal for the mapping of the elemental
composition of objects, however it cannot be performed in-situ and a sample must be
removed from the object prior to analysis.
XRF is a good and established technique that is
non-destructive and is able to achieve multi-elemental analysis and a good spectral resolution,
similar to LIBS. It can also be used portably. However it is not useful for elements lighter
than sodium and its depth resolution is not ideal (10-50 m).
PIXE is also a good multi-
elemental analysis technique with a very high resolution and sensitivity, and quantitative
analysis is relatively simple. Analysis can be performed in-situ, but only once the object has
been transported to the specialized facility where the ion accelerator is located.
MS, which will be discussed in detail later on in this paper, has extremely low LODs and
makes use of the same laser-ablation sampling technique as LIBS, however this technique
also does not allow for transportable instrumentation.
It should be noted that it might depend on the objects being studied which technique will be
the most suitable. In reality it will also depend on which instrumentation is the most
accessible for the researchers at that time, as not every lab or museum will have all of these
different machines to choose from.

3. Optical Coherence Tomography
3.1 History and development
The basics of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) begin with Michelson interferometry,
which was developed by Albert Abraham Michelson around 1881 to study the speed and
traveling properties of light.
Figure 4 shows the basic setup for a Michelson
interferometer. A beam of light is split in two and directed towards two mirrors, which
reflect the beams back towards the beam splitter where they are recombined and directed
towards the detector. The detected interference pattern then depends on the distance and
orientation of the mirrors to the beam splitter.
1 6

Figure 5. Michelson interferometer.
All forms of interferometry are based on the Michelson interferometer, including OCT, which
was first developed by David Huang et al. at MIT and published in Science in 1991.
was developed primarily for non-invasive imaging in biological systems, most notably the
eyes. The extreme vulnerability of the materials for which analysis by OCT was first
developed, makes it ideal for the examination of works of art as well.
3.2 Theory and technique
OCT is a type of low-coherence interferometry that enables one to obtain cross-sectional
views of semi-transparent objects non-invasively. Tomography is the principle of obtaining
two-dimensional data from the internal structure of a three-dimensional object. In short: a
beam from the optical source is split into a reference beam, which is reflected by a reference
mirror, and an object beam, which will reflect light from the sample. Both reflected beams
are then combined again and the interference signal is directed towards the detector. Low-
coherence length light must be used as this determines the axial (depth) resolution of the
system. The lateral resolution depends on the width of the light beam inside the sample, and
thus on the imaging optics of the system.

As stated above, the technique was first proposed by Huang et al. in 1991 when they
combined low-coherence reflectometry with tomographic imaging to measure the internal
structures of biological systems.
Figure 5 shows a diagram of this setup. The light from a
super-luminescent diode (SLD) is split by the beam splitter and directed towards a sample
arm and a reference mirror arm. The reference mirror can be scanned longitudinally, and the
amplitude of the interferometric signal from the recombined sample and reference beams is
detected simultaneously.
However a signal is only detected when the two beams interfere
constructively. This is especially true because of the low-coherence light, for which the
signal will be dissipated quickly in the event that there is no constructive interference, and
which allows high-resolution detection of the position of the sample reflection sites.

A series of longitudinal scans (of the reference mirror) are performed to obtain the data for
the creation of a two-dimensional image of a layer within the sample. This is done by
scanning the depth across a lateral beam axis, and thus acquiring information on a cross
1 7

sectional slice of the sample. This is called an A-scan and can effectively be seen as the
intensity of the back-scattered light as a function of depth. It is important to note that these
intensities can never be interpreted as purely quantitative, because the semi-opaque materials
will absorb and scatter some of the light as it passes each way through the sample. Finally, a
three-dimensional image can then be constructed by combining the cross sections of
orthogonal lateral depth scans.

Figure 6. Schematic of the OCT system described by Huang et al. in 1991.
As stated above, the use of a low-coherence light source is of great importance for obtaining
a good depth resolution. This has to do with the relationship between the line width (spread
of components) () and the coherence length (l
), which is described by:
* (
/ )
From this equation it is clear that the larger the line width of the source, the smaller the
coherence length, and consequently the better the depth resolution that can be achieved.

For this reason the most commonly used light sources for OCT are superluminescent diodes,
which have a large wavelength bandwidth and still quite a high power output.
They are
generally used in the N
IR region where absorption of the objects under analysis will be lowest.

This first type of OCT is referred to as Time Domain OCT, in which the optical path
difference between the reference and sample beams is physically adjusted by moving the
reference mirror to obtain a depth reflectivity profile (the time delay of the light scattered off
the internal structures of the sample is measured indirectly through the interferometer).

This technique is quite slow due to the mechanical limitations of having to move the
reference mirror arm. A more recent type of OCT termed Spectral Domain or Fourier
Domain OCT does not require this moving reference arm for depth scanning and is much
faster. In spectral domain OCT the reference mirror is kept in place, and the interference
between reference and sample beams is detected as a spectrum (spectral interferogram) with
the help of a CCD camera, which is then Fourier Transformed into an axial scan.
method is faster (by about 100 fold) for two reasons. The advantage is not only in the fact
that no moving parts are required, but also in that only a single exposure is necessary to
collect the back-scattered light from each layer in the sample and create an axial A-scan.

1 8

Targowski et al. were able to obtain 10-15 cross-sectional images per second, and predict that
with the advent of better and faster computers, on-line monitoring with OCT will be possible.
Real-time monitoring of the laser ablation cleaning of varnish layers off of paintings is named
specifically as an application for which OCT could have advantages over LIBS, which is
often used for this purpose (see LIBS section). OCT will be preferable when working with
NIR lasers, as a plasma is usually not generated at these wavelengths, and when only a partial
removal of the varnish layer is desired. LIBS only provides information on whether the
varnish-paint layer interface has been reached, and thus when all of the varnish has been
removed. OCT on the other hand, when the ability to provide real-time cross-sectional
images is reached, will be able to show how much of the varnish layer remains, therefore
providing more specific information.

Besides the advantage of improved acquisition speed for spectral domain OCT, a very
significant increase in signal to noise ratio has been demonstrated as well.
This mainly has
to do with the multi-array detectors used in SD-OCT, compared with single-element detectors
for TD-OCT. The spectral dispersion of each detected wavelength means shot noise at one
wavelength will not necessarily affect the signal to noise ratio at all other wavelengths. For a
single-element detector used in TD-OCT, each wavelength is encoded as a unique frequency
on the same detector and the shot noise at one wavelength can effect the entire tomogram.

3.3 Other aspects of OCT
The depth to which the light beam can penetrate into the sample is highly dependent on the
degree of absorption and scattering of the sample and thus also on the wavelength of the
However due to the many different pigments and substances present in works of
art, selecting an optimum analysis wavelength is difficult in this application.
commonly used sources are used with wavelengths between 600 and 2000 nm where the
main components in medical diagnostics and pigments have low absorption.
wavelengths tend to improve the penetration depth, however this will have a negative effect
on the depth resolution which is of course extremely undesirable, unless the optical
bandwidth of the source is adjusted as well.

Another difficulty that one can run into with OCT experiments is the appearance of speckle
noise from highly scattering samples. Light from the source will be scattered off of different
microscopic points in the sample, and will still have the same coherence (and so can be
detected) but will have slight differences in path length and phase.
The OCT images will
then contain patterns of bright and dark speckles, where the back scattered light interferes
constructively and destructively, which can be particularly problematic when trying to detect
very thin layers. Various methods of post-processing or changes to the hardware of the
system can be employed to reduce the interference of speckle patterns in the OCT

1 9

3.4 Applications to art and archaeological research

The nature of the OCT technique, and one of its greatest limitations, requires that the material
under analysis be transparent or semi-transparent. The most valuable application of OCT is
therefore the analysis of paintings and varnish layers, not an unimportant one of course.
When an object is suitable for analysis by OCT, the method has a number of advantages.
Most importantly it is a non-contact, non-invasive method, though some care must be taken
with regard to the laser power to avoid unnecessary damage. High axial and spatial
resolutions are possible when the appropriate light source and imaging optics are selected.
Furthermore it is a technique with high precision and sensitivity.

Figure 7. Example of the multi-layered varnish over the paint layer: (a) microphotograph, UV excited
fluorescence; (b) OCT tomogram. Arrows point to interfaces between consecutive varnish layers.
As stated previously, OCT is extremely suitable for the study of protective varnish layers, and
consequently this is the area in which it has been most applied. It was first used for this
purpose in 2004 by Targowski et al. to study the glaze coating on porcelain and a 19
oil painting.
In the same study they also used OCT to visualize the effects on the surface
of a painting upon exposure to an extremely humid environment. Bajraszewski et al.
performed a similar humidity study of the surface of an oil painting with OCT the following
Other early applications of OCT for art and archaeological research include a 2004
study by Yang et al. of ancient jade artefacts that were typically buried together with their
deceased owners.
After centuries of being underground, the interiors of the jade objects
undergo a whitening process, giving them a distinct look. Unfortunately, forgers have found
ways of artificially whitening jade objects to make it seem as if they were centuries old. On
the surface it is very difficult to tell the difference between a fake and an authentic ancient
jade object. Yang et al. proposed the use of OCT to obtain cross-sections of, and study the

200 m

Fig. 3. Example oI the multi-layered varnish over the paint layer: (a) microphotograph, UV excited Iluorescence; (b) OCT
tomogram. Arrows point to interIaces between consecutive varnish layers

Except multiple varnishing some areas oI this painting were over-painted. In raises the question oI the authenticity oI
inscriptions present in this picture. To dispel this doubts the stratigraphy oI the object in the place oI inscription must be
identiIied. The routine method is to collect a sample and investigate its cross-section under microscope. However
sampling in the area oI any inscription (especially author`s signature) is very undesirable and oIten impossible. In such a
case the non-invasive OCT examination may be the method oI choice. It can be used iI the upper paint layer is
transparent enough to IR to reveal the underneath structure. Such a case is presented in Iigure 4. As it is clearly seen
Irom the OCT tomogram, in this case the inscription is located over the varnish covering the old paint layer, and thus it
was added aIter the whole painting was Iinished.
200 m
Fig. 4. Example oI the inscription (arrow) located over the old paint layer: (1) varnish layer, (2) paint layer under varnish,
(3) inscription painted over the original varnish-paint layer structure

In addition to collecting single 2D images (Fig. 2 to 4) the instrument used in this study is also capable oI accumulating a
series oI parallel slices (B-scans). These slices may be then combined together to obtain 3D (volume) inIormation oI the
examined sample. In the case oI data presented in Fig. 5, 200 parallel B-scans were collected over 15 x 15 mm area oI
varnished paint layer. Then the automatic edge recognition procedure was used at every B-scan to localise the picture
E. Kwiatkowska et al, 'Optical Coherence Tomography Ior non-destructive investigations oI structure oI easel paintings, !"#$%&'!()
('&), 713916 (2008)

Copyright 2008 Society oI Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers. One print or electronic copy may be made Ior personal use only.
Systematic reproduction and distribution, duplication oI any material in this paper Ior a Iee or Ior commercial purposes, or
modiIication oI the content oI the paper are prohibited.

2 0

internal structures of ancient jades and forgeries for comparison. They found the internal
structures to be quite different and this method to be successful in identifying a forged object.
Since then, a number of other studies have been published on the examination of varnish
layers. Gorszynska et al. used spectral domain OCT for the determination of the thickness of
a varnish layer on an easel painting, finding similar results to those from the microscopic
image of the cross-section of a sample taken from the painting.
In 2005 Liang et al. used
en-face OCT for the study of easel paintings. In this case a system was used in which the en-
face or lateral scanning was the fast component and the depth scanning is performed at a
slower rate. This enabled the examination of the entire painting layer by layer, in which
comparison with the visible top layer of the painting is fast and simple.
In this way, depth
profiles were successfully obtained from varnish on glass samples and from a fifty-year-old
test painting, from which the researchers were able to determine various layers of varnish, as
well as under drawings. The following year Targowski et al. used spectral domain OCT for
the construction of three-dimensional maps of varnish layers on an easel painting, and in
another study for tracking the deformation of a painting over time upon exposure to
alternately humid and dry environments.

Szkulmowska et al. used a longer central wavelength for the application of OCT to the
examination of paint layers.
Due to the absorption of the pigments in paints in the visible
region, working with a longer wavelength (1.55 m in this case) is bound to be more
successful. Even so, distinguishing the paint layer and the paint-ground layer interface of the
forty-seven paints analysed proved difficult. This was due to the high level of scattering
and/or absorption, even at this wavelength (a comparative study was done with a 823 nm
SLD and the results were even worse). Spectral domain OCT has also been used to generate
en-face tomograms of gold punch work characteristic of Italian Renaissance paintings.

Since gold is highly reflective in the NIR region, a very detailed image of the gold can be
created, as no light will penetrate through the surface of the gold layer.
As mentioned earlier, preliminary studies have been done on the use of OCT for the
monitoring of the laser-ablation cleaning of art works.
This was first done by Gra et
al. in 2006, using sample resins applied to fused silica plates to simulate the varnishes on
paintings. OCT was found to be very useful in showing the depth and size of craters formed
during ablation, as well as any deformations to the material underneath and around the
ablation craters.
Targowski et al. did a study on specially prepared substrates of oil
paintings and cardboard supports covered in various varnishes, including one that was made
according to an old varnish recipe. The experiment then proceeded by ablating a very small
amount of material and consequently performing an OCT scan of the ablated area. This
allowed for a very precise removal of the varnish layer, which would be very useful when
working with fragile paintings and other objects for which the removal of a layer underneath
the varnish could be disastrous.
In another study by Targowski et al. mentioned earlier,
the structural analysis of a painting and a stained glass sample by OCT was performed along
with functional imaging of the laser ablation of the varnish layer of a painting. This was done
by obtaining fifteen cross-sectional images per second that could be stored for further
This allowed the construction of video footage of the ablation process, and is
2 1

the closest thing to real-time imaging in art research reported to date. A recent article
reported a new way of parallel processing data from spectral OCT tomograms to achieve
much faster processing and the ability for real-time imaging.
Though it is reported that the
quality is not yet ideal, it is an indication that real-time imaging with OCT will most likely be
available in the near future.
Finally, an interesting application of OCT which has come to light in recent years is for the
examination of artists signatures and other forms of writings on paintings.
stratigraphy of paint and varnish layers can provide valuable information on the position of
an artists signature, whether it lies on the same level as the top paint layer, or whether it has
been painted on top of a varnish layer and covered with another layer of varnish, thus
exposing a fake. UV-fluorescence spectroscopy will not be able to detect any inconsistencies
if a fluorescent layer has been applied over the whole painting on top of the fake signature.

An OCT tomogram on the other hand can reveal the situation of the signature, as seen in
figure 7. This clearly shows that the signature has been applied on top of the original varnish
layer, and can provide strong evidence that the person who made the painting was not the one
who applied the signature.

It is important to note here that many of the studies with OCT to date were performed on
specially prepared samples, and references are often made to future applications. It is
obvious that a lot more research and development is necessary before this technique becomes
widely implemented in the art and archaeological science fields.
3.5 Advantages and disadvantages / comparison to other techniques
A great advantage of OCT is that it has the ability to characterize objects layer by layer,
without actually having to remove any of them, making it a completely non-destructive
technique. The resolution with which it can do this (defined as half the coherence length of
the light) enables the distinction between very thin layers, such as layers of varnishes, glazes
and paints.
The ability to obtain three-dimensional images of works of art is also an
important advantage. The great disadvantage however, is that a great number of materials
Figure 8. Example of an OCT examination of a signature. In
the OCT cross-sectional image, it becomes obvious that the
signature has been applied on top of the original varnish layer,
after which a new varnish layer has been applied on top.

2 2

and works of art are not suitable for analysis by OCT because the material must be at least
semi-transparent so that not all of the light is absorbed.
The most common technique for the imaging of paintings is of course NIR reflectography or
IR photography, which can reveal under drawings of paintings because the overlying paint
layers become transparent at infrared wavelengths.
However this technique is not able to
distinguish between different layers, or determine in which stratum the appeared under
drawing is located.
It is also not very useful for distinguishing different varnish or glaze
layers as these are all transparent. The potential for OCT to become a household technique
for the analysis of especially paintings, but also ceramics and other works of art that are
covered with varnishes or glazes, is therefore enormous.

4. Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry
4.1 History and development
Mass spectrometry has been under development ever since J.J. Thompson discovered the
electron in 1897 and consequently determined its mass to charge ratio. The idea of using
Inductively Coupled Plasma as an ion source, and laser ablation sampling for this type of
Mass-Spectrometry were only discovered in the 1980s however.

4.2 Theory and technique
Mass spectrometry is one of the most widely used analytical techniques, and can be applied
to a great variety of research fields. A range of different types of instruments (ion sources
and mass analyzers) can be used to create the ideal instrument for the type of analyte being
studied. What characterizes all mass spectrometers however is the excellent selectivity and
limits of detection, as well as the speed of analysis.
For a sample to be analyzed by Mass
Spectrometry, gas phase ions of the analyte must be produced with the help of a so-called ion
source, which should be selected for the specific sample under analysis. These ions are then
transferred to the mass analyzer, where they are separated with respect to their mass-to-
charge ratio. The abundance of each ion (each mass to charge ratio) is then detected and a
spectrum is formed.
Inductively coupled plasma is an ionization source that is especially useful for measuring
inorganic substances, making it ideal for the analysis of minerals, pigments and metals. In a
traditional ICP-MS, the sample is introduced into the ICP torch as a solution spray. In the
ICP, an argon plasma of between 8000 and 10000 K is sustained, and the sample droplets
are transported into the plasma by a carrier gas, usually also argon. The very high
temperature plasma will then vaporize, atomize and ionize the sample (typically into positive
ions), after which the ions are pumped out of the plasma and into the mass analyzer.
Instead of using a nebulizer or another type of liquid based introduction method, Laser-
Ablation ICP-MS makes use of the same sampling technique as LIBS: laser ablation of a
miniscule amount of solid material. This technique allows direct sampling from a solid
2 3

artefact (work of art or archaeological find), and requires only that the sample surface be
cleaned prior to analysis. The sample must generally be mounted into the ablation chamber,
limiting the sample size, and after irradiation with the laser the ablated material is transferred
directly into the ICP. In the section on LIBS the ablation process is discussed in detail. It is
important to note that in this case, the laser is used only as a sampling method and the
particles generated by the ablation are ionized only in the ICP torch.
Figure 1 shows a basic scheme for an LA-ICP-MS system

Figure 9. Basic scheme for an LA-ICP-MS system.
Various parameters in an LA-ICP-MS can be adjusted to optimize the system for the analysis
of your sample, and are important to consider when using this technique. The first important
adjustable parameter concerns the laser and will have an effect on the size of the ablation
crater formed and the amount of material ablated. This involves taking into account the
energy of the laser beam and the type of material under analysis, as well as the number of
pulses directed at each point of analysis.
Nevertheless it is always difficult to determine
exactly the amount of sample that has been ablated and the amount that is transferred and
reaches the ICP chamber. For this reason quantitative analysis can be difficult and will
require calibration curves and internal standards, which are discussed further on.
et al. performed an extensive study on Corning archaeological reference glasses, which are
often used as standards for the analysis of historical glasses. They determined the laser
wavelength and the pulse length to have a very large effect on limits of detection of these
glasses (three different wavelengths were compared), and also on the detected elemental
signal, giving some quite deviating results.

Parameters of the ICP torch such as the power of the generator and the carrier gas flow rate
can also be adjusted to obtain the strongest possible signal of the analyte elements.
adjustable parameters add to the sensitivity of the system and are part of what make LA-ICP-
MS such a valuable tool for trace elemental analysis in works of art. In fact ICP-MS systems
are extremely sensitive to a very broad range of elements in the periodic table, with detection
2 4

limits (in the parts per million to parts per trillion range) up to three orders of magnitude
better than techniques such as ICP-Optical Emission Spectroscopy.
4.3 Other aspects of LA-ICP-MS
4.3.1 Interferences
Due to its excellent sensitivity and limits of detection for many elements, LA-ICP-MS is
often used in cultural heritage research for the analysis of trace elements in for example
archaeological iron
, limestone
, and obsidian
, to obtain information on how and
where an artefact was made. One of the biggest problems that can be encountered in these
instances is the interference of matrix effects from the sample. The extent of the interference
will depend on the matrix itself, and can cause the occurrence of a signal that is either too
high or too low for the actual amount of analyte present in the sample.
This is of course
particularly problematic for quantitative analysis, especially when working with external
reference and calibration standards. Standard reference samples are used in most cases from
NIST, but for some substances these do not exist or they will still differ from the analyte
matrix. Also, for a group of artefacts of a similar nature, the matrix could turn out to be quite
different, leading to deviating quantitative results even with the help of a reference standard.
The use of an internal standard can be helpful in these cases to correct for differences in the
matrix and also for differences between the reference and sample matrices.

Another type of interference that must be taken into account when doing LA-ICP-MS
analysis is that of spectral interferences, otherwise known as isobaric interferences.
type of interference involves the overlapping of elemental peaks in the spectrum, which can
be problematic in identifying the analyte of interest. These overlapping peaks may be the
result of doubly charged ions, the formation of oxides during ionization, elemental
combination, the formation of polyatomic ions, or it may result from elements present in the
sample matrix.
To avoid these types of interferences it is necessary to carefully select
the elements and isotopes to be analyzed.
One could also increase the resolution of the
MS system if this is a very big problem, however this will lead to a decrease in sensitivity
and so it is not the most ideal solution.

4.3.2 Spatially resolved analysis
As with LIBS, LA-ICP-MS has the ability to perform spatially resolved analyses of artworks.
Devos et al. used it for the spatially resolved analysis of archaeological iron (or rather the
elemental impurities in the iron, which can provide provenance and production
These samples included areas of corrosion or holes and even charcoal in
some cases, which needed to be excluded during the analysis. This called first of all for the
necessity of a solid sampling technique, so that the substances to be excluded would not be
mixed with the good parts of iron that the authors were interested in (which is what would
happen if the sample were to be liquefied). Secondly, the ability to choose exactly where the
samples were taken and a resolution that was good enough for excluding the unwanted areas
were requirements. LA-ICP-MS was therefore the method of choice in this case. Wagner et
al. used LA-ICP-MS for the analysis of a 16
century manuscript, in which an elemental
profile distribution was made.
This was done by directing the laser over a path of 2.5 mm,
2 5

which traversed a part of a letter on the manuscript page. In this way a distribution pattern of
Fe and
Cu (major components of historical iron gall inks) could be constructed. However
it must be noted that while the spatial resolution component of LA-ICP-MS can be very
helpful in some cases, bulk analysis of materials is more difficult, especially in combination
with the difficulties with calibrations and standards.
On the other hand, Resano et al.
demonstrated that with the use of proper standards and calculations, it should be quite
possible to perform bulk quantitative analysis with LA-ICP-MS, though the internal standard
was determined by SEM-EDX.
In any event, methods such as INAA and SEM-EDX can
still compete with LA-ICP-MS due to these relative difficulties, despite the fact that the
sensitivity of LA-ICP-MS is far superior.
4.4 LA-ICP-MS in combination with other techniques
The nature of an LA-ICP-MS system is such that it would be difficult to directly combine this
type of analysis with another technique. However due to the difficulties with calibration
methods often encountered, LA-ICP-MS is often performed next to another experimental
technique. Also, when an internal standard is necessary, the concentration of the chosen
element in the analyte must be known prior to analysis with LA-ICP-MS.
A technique
such as SEM-EDX can be used to determine major components in a sample (its detection
sensitivity is much lower than that of LA-ICP-MS) and for the determination of
concentrations for an internal standard. SEM can also be used prior to LA-ICP-MS analysis
to gain information on the surface of the sample to be analyzed and determine ideal positions
for sample ablation.

4.5 Application to art and archaeological research
As with LIBS and OCT, one of the biggest advantages of LA-ICP-MS for art and
archaeological research is the fact that no complicated sample preparation or digestion is
necessary prior to analysis. However, as opposed to LIBS analysis where the possibility of
portable instruments exists and spectra can be taken directly off of a work of art, LA-ICP-MS
requires that the sample fit inside an ablation chamber. This at times will require samples to
be taken, or samples to be broken or cut into smaller pieces, making this a more destructive
method to the artwork. However the technique itself is still only a micro-destructive
technique (in the form of the ablation crater), and the sample will be available afterwards for
further analysis by another technique if necessary.
Due to its excellent sensitivity and limits of detection for many elements, LA-ICP-MS is
most often used for trace elemental analysis of works of art. Information on the trace
elemental fingerprint can yield information on where or how something was made. It can
also be used to group artefacts together that were made at a specific site or during a particular
time. Green and Watling (2007) used LA-ICP-MS for the analysis of Australian aboriginal
paintings. The traditional artists of the last century often included ochre in their works of art,
which is a mixture of clay and a naturally occurring metal oxide (iron, silicon, aluminium,
manganese), and which will be distinctive of a certain geological area.
The trace elements
present in the ochre can also be a distinguishing factor when determining provenances.
Samples of ochres taken directly from nature, as well as samples from artworks, were
analysed with LA-ICP-MS and subsequently subjected to statistical and group analysis by a
2 6

search/match compatibility index developed by the authors and also by principal component
analysis. This proved to be a very successful and reproducible method in grouping samples
from the same area and identifying the provenance of an unknown sample.

Figure 10. PCA discriminate plot depicting separate populations of Australian ochre within a single region. The
area of the sample origin could be narrowed down to within 2500 km
Insoll et al. similarly used LA-ICP-MS for the analysis of carnelian beads from India and
Sub-Saharan Africa, to investigate whether a link could be made to a trade route between
these areas.
Beads excavated at sites on both continents were inspected with LA-ICP-MS
analysis and consequently subjected to cluster and principal component analysis to determine
the extent to which their major and trace elements coincided. Standardization was difficult in
this case due to the lack of carnelian standard reference material, and glass from NIST was
used instead. A number of groups were identified, with some overlap between samples from
India and regions of sub-Saharan Africa, however linking samples to specific excavation sites
was difficult and it was concluded that more research would be needed for more definite
The analysis of glass artefacts has also been found to be a valuable application for LA-ICP-
MS. This is largely due to the fact that glass samples are generally quite homogeneous, and
that there is a broad availability of matrix reference standards available.
Dussubieux et al.
have done studies on African glass beads to look into ancient trade routes across the continent
similar to Insoll et al. with carnelian.
Though major and minor trace elemental analysis
was very successful using LA-ICP-MS and provided valuable information on the different
glassmaking methods, it was difficult to establish clear distinctions such that definitive
statements on provenances and trade routes of the beads could be made. Robertshaw et al.
conducted a study of glass beads found in the Moroccan city of Al-Basra, and found six
distinctly different types of beads (chemically speaking) for which they were able to draw

another. It is envisaged that additional research will provide the
means to differentiate ochers from areas on an even smaller scale.
Distinguishing Ochers within a Population
The LA-ICP-MS data for ocher samples W1, W3, and W4, both
powdered using a ring-mill and mortar and pestle, were analyzed
by using PCA. These samples all originated from Fitzroy Crossing,
in northern Western Australia.
The PCA was used to determine the possibility of provenancing
ocher within an area (Fig. 9). The variation of elemental composi-
tion within ochers from a single region provides evidence that
provenancing can be achieved and the area of sample origin nar-
rowed down further, to within 2500 km
Chondrite Normalization
The primeval crust of the earth had a recognized rare earth ele-
ment distribution pattern, which can now be seen only in stony
meteorites or chondrites. This pattern is altered by geological pro-
cesses, metamorphic events, and recrystallization partitioning. This
existing ratio can be normalized to the original crustal relationship
to give a chondrite normalized pattern which, when compared
between areas, can assist in identification of provenance and give
an indication of the geological history of the region.
Large geographical areas, such as Warmun in northern Western
Australia, make it possible to find chondrite normalized rare earth
patterns representing a number of different geological environ-
ments. When plotted, the chondrite normalized data for Warmun
samples W1 and W9 exhibits completely different patterns.
(Figs. 10 and 11). This kind of geological information makes it
possible to develop refined and site-specific identification profiles
that can be used with chemical data to accurately locate specific
collection sites within a general area. The utilization of chondrite
normalization, as well as comparability tests proved useful for dif-
ferentiating both between samples and between regions, based on
raw data alone. Determination of provenance of these ochers is
therefore possible.
A mock fraud investigation was carried out to test the validity of
the study procedures for provenancing fraudulent artwork. A sam-
ple of Tiwi Island artwork was analyzed together with ochers from
various regions across northern Australia. The Tiwi islands com-
prise Bathurst Island and Melville Island off the northern coast of
Australia. It follows that the materials used on these artworks are
of the same origin and thus may be linked through their inter-ele-
mental ratios determined using this technique. Each ocher sample
was analyzed in duplicate and extremely good reproducibility was
achieved (Fig. 12). As the reproducibility of the technique had been
previously established, duplicate scans on each sample were suffi-
cient to obtain representative trace element distribution patterns. As
with the other data samples, a search match protocol was used to
determine how comparable the ochers from the Tiwi region were
with the artwork sample. From these analyses, the elemental distri-
bution patterns of both the Tiwi Island ocher samples and samples
from the artworks were found to match. This proves that they
originated from the same source and confirms the application of
LA-ICP-MS for establishing provenance of artworks through ocher
Ochers sourced from different regions in Australia have unique
and distinguishable trace metal signatures. A high level of data
reproducibility, identified in determining these trace metal composi-
tions using LA-ICP-MS confirms this technique as an excellent
analytical tool for this purpose. Furthermore, this analytical repro-
ducibility is proof that only a single sample of ocher from a speci-
fic site is required to obtain accurate and representative trace
elemental concentrations for ochers from that site. As such, it fol-
lows that a single fragment of ocher sampled from an original art-
work is sufficiently homogenous for data obtained from its analysis
FIG. 9PCA discriminate plot depicting separate populations within a
single region. This allows area of provenance to be reduced to a specific
FIG. 10A graphical plot of chondrite normalized data plotted for sample Warmun 1 (W1) powdered using an tungsten-carbide ring-mill. The same pat-
tern appeared for the Warmun 1 ocher that was powdered using a mortar and pestle.
2 7

some connections to other ancient sites throughout Africa.

Other examples of glass
analysis by LA-ICP-MS are the determination of discriminating factors between glass
artefacts from Egypt and Mesopotamia from the late Bronze age
, and discriminating
between locally made faon-de-Venise glass vessels from Antwerp from those that were
imported from Venice in the 16
an 17
Both of these studies made use of
fingerprint and rare earth elemental (REE) analysis to come to these conclusions. Schultheis
et al. found lead isotope ratio analysis to be more successful than trace elemental grouping for
the characterization of a collection of Art Nouveau glass samples by LA-ICP-MS.

Figure 11. Glass beads from Al-Basra (Morocco) were linked by Robertshaw et al. to other ancient sites in
Another type of archaeological artefacts for which LA-ICP-MS has been found particularly
useful is pottery and ceramics. During a study for which the authors wanted to use LA-ICP-
MS for distinguishing between organic and mineral paints, they discovered that not only was
this possible but it was also possible to characterize different types of paints within these two
Neff included depth profiling measurements using LA-ICP-MS in his study on
Mesoamerican plumbate pottery, in which it was found possible to distinguish between two
sources of plumbate used by potters, which agreed with archaeological data obtained

Furthermore, LA-ICP-MS studies have been conducted on the provenance establishment of
limestone used in buildings of the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan
, of obsidian
artefacts from the Mediterranean and Near-East to look into trade routes in this region
, and
of ancient gold objects.
Fingerprint lead isotope analysis has also been conducted on
Roman coins to gain information on where and how they were made.
A more recent study
made use of LA-ICP-MS to determine arsenic concentrations in single strands of hair from
5000-year-old mummies from the Atacama Desert.

It is obvious that the list of applications for LA-ICP-MS is extensive and varied and will
continue to grow in the future as the technique is perfected and the availability of standard
reference materials is expanded.
Figure 3 Al-Basra glass beads: PRB869FM881FM. Beads are arranged in number sequence from left to right and top
to bottom.
Figure 4 Al-Basra glass beads: PR882FM894TM. Beads are arranged in number sequence from left to right and top
to bottom.
Chemical analysis of glass beads from medieval al-Basra (Morocco) 359
University of Oxford, 2009, Archaeometry 52, 3 (2010) 355379
2 8

4.6 Advantages and disadvantages / comparison to other techniques

Compared to LIBS and OCT, LA-ICP-MS would be termed the most destructive of the three.
Analysis must be carried out in the lab and no portable devices have been developed to date.
Also, smaller portable artefacts may still have to be broken or sampled to fit into the ablation
chamber of the LA-ICP-MS system. However the technique is still itself only micro-
destructive and after analysis with LA-ICP-MS samples may still be used for analysis with
other methods or saved for follow up analysis.
As has been discussed, one of the biggest drawbacks is that quantitative analysis is difficult
with laser ablation methods. The difficulty begins with the variations in the amount of
sample ablated for each laser pulse and the amount of sample and analyte actually reaching
the ICP. All of these issues can have an effect on the observed analyte signal.
The other
problem with this method is inhomogeneities in the sample, which will have a large influence
for bulk analyses because of the spatially resolved sampling (which can also be an advantage,
depending on the sample and the aims of the study). This would not be an issue when
working with traditional ICP-MS where a much larger amount of sample would be used.

Traditional ICP-MS is however a strictly destructive method so one would have to decide
which is more important.
In the past, instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) has been the method of choice
for analysing trace elements in works of art.
In a study by James et al. in which a
collection of ceramics and a collection of archaeological obsidian were analysed by both
methods for comparison, it was found that LA-ICP-MS provided similar and accurate
information to INAA after performing multivariate analysis of the results. LA-ICP-MS was
found to be less precise because the internal standard was not able to totally correct for the
variations in ablated sample mass with each laser pulse, however this did not seem to have a
very negative effect for the multivariate analysis and the characterization of the samples for
provenance groups. Advantages of LA-ICP-MS over INAA include a much faster analysis
time, lower costs, and the ability to detect a much wider range of elements in smaller
Also, samples could still be radioactive for quite some time after analysis
with INAA, which could be a problem is an object is to be returned to a museum.
As stated earlier, SEM and SEM-EDX are often used in the same context as LA-ICP-MS in
art research. Rather than being simply advantageous or disadvantageous, these techniques
should be termed complementary. SEM-EDX is not suitable for trace elemental analysis,
however it is crucial for determining major components in a sample and at times also for
determining the concentration of an internal standard for LA-ICP-MS. It is however so that
sample preparation for SEM analysis is more destructive and laborious than for LA-ICP-MS,
and the analysis time is much slower.
Similarly, XRF can also be used to detect more
abundant elements in a sample, but this technique cannot determine between isotopes of the
same element and is not appropriate for detecting light elements (atomic number smaller than
11 or so).
It does however offer the possibility of portable instrumentation.

2 9

5. Conclusion

Three analytical techniques have been discussed with application to the fields of art and
archaeological research. The importance of these techniques in this field lies in the fact that
they are so-called non-invasive or minimally-invasive techniques and are thus suitable for the
analysis of fragile and valuable objects of art.
LIBS is a simple elemental analysis technique that makes use of laser ablation sampling,
giving it a good spatial resolution and the opportunity for portable and combined devices.
OCT is a non-contact, non-invasive technique that allows for the investigation of the inner
layers of paintings, ceramics and other objects that contain semi-transparent layers, as well as
the construction of 3D images of these layers. LA-ICP-MS also makes use of laser ablation
sampling and is very effective in conducting trace elemental analysis due to its excellent
sensitivity. The biggest difficulties for LIBS and LA-ICP-MS have to do with quantitative
analysis at this point, as better methods for quantifying the amount of sample removed during
laser ablation sampling must be found. OCT is still in its very early stages of development as
an analytical tool in this field, but the results obtained up to now are quite promising.
Furthermore, it has become clear that different types of techniques are suitable for different
types of artworks or archaeological artefacts. Every technique is bound to have some
limitations and will not be appropriate for the analysis of certain materials. It is therefore very
important to evaluate what one is dealing with and the information that one wishes to obtain,
before proceeding with the analysis. Most likely more than one technique will be necessary
to obtain a complete picture of the chemical composition for the object being studied. This
fact adds to the importance of non-invasive and non-destructive techniques: if a sample is
taken, it is ideal if this one sample can be used for a number of different analyses, so that
damage to the artwork remains at a minimum.
With the constant development of newer and better technology, the three techniques
discussed here are bound to gain a lot of ground in the field of art and archaeological research
in the future. Their simple sample preparation and fast analysis time add to their plus of
being minimally-invasive techniques. Most important though, is the information that they
will be able to provide us with in order to learn from and preserve our valuable cultural

3 0


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