Newton Advanced Fellowship: BGS Training Program Week One / / by Emma Baysal et al

Emma Baysal (Trakya University) and Holly Miller (University of Nottingham) were awarded a Newton Advanced Fellowship to promote capacity building, education and training in the field of archaeological science in Turkey. This is the first in a series of three blogs that will discuss their initial three weeks of activities at the British Geological Survey, with guest researchers from Turkey. 

Gülsu Şimşek working with Simon Chenery

We, namely Emma Baysal of Trakya University and Rana Özbal, Gülsu Şimşek and Hannah Lau of Koç University (Turkey), began our Newton Advanced Fellowship funded training program at the British Geological Survey. During the first week, and after an extensive and impressive safety training session, we participated in a course taught by Dr. Simon Chenery. The course taught us not only about mass spectrometers and how they function but also about analyzing glass samples with laser ablation using Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS).

The samples we had the opportunity to analyse were from Turkey and were part of the collection of Professor Üzlifat Özgümüş from Istanbul University. They had been placed in epoxy and polished by Dr. Hongjiao Ma, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Nottingham working in collaboration with Prof. Julian Henderson. We initially took these pre-polished samples and marked them in ways that enabled us to spot them when in the laser ablation vacuum chamber. We learned how to pre-select the locations for the laser readings and how often to add a reference reading from a glass standard. At the end of the week we also received instruction from Prof. Henderson on the science and chemistry of glass and glass making. Dr. Holly Miller (University of Nottingham) also explained to us the initial stages of collagen extraction in preparation for the upcoming weeks.

The initial week of the course was especially instructive for Dr. Gülsu Şimşek, the researcher in charge of using the LA-ICP-MS at Koç University. The laser ablation component of the instrument at Koç University was causing problems but we had no clear idea what was wrong. Gülsu, for the first time was able to see the laser ablation in action, directly use the instrument and see which steps needed to be taken when trying to interpret the results. After hearing the problems with our instrument, Simon Chenery ensured we got in touch with the Cetac instrument team from the UK who had set the instrument at Koç University up in the first place. It turned out that it had a technical problem and is now scheduled to be repaired. Despite this set back, with the instruction we received from Simon, the Koç University LA-ICP-MS is one step closer to proper use.

The course, funded by the Newton Advanced Fellowship was exceptional in that it enabled us to be part of every step of our analysis, from initial sample processing to interpretation of the results. In addition to the analyzed glass samples mentioned above, with the LA-ICP-MS Simon analyzed one porcelain sample that Gülsu had brought with her in two locations: a blue area which turned out to be rich in cobalt and the white porcelain itself. Gülsu had already analyzed these samples with an XRF in Turkey and was delighted to find that the results from the two instruments matched perfectly. This gave much confidence to the results obtained from our XRF instrument.

The first week of our training session was a great introduction to the BGS laboratories and their staff, and enabled us to learn the basics of mass spectrometers, the history and the methodology of glass analysis in archaeology, the use of the LA-ICP-MS and the interpretation of the results. It also provided us with the opportunity to get the bone samples ready for Weeks 2 and 3, a story for another blog post.

We are very thankful to the Newton Advanced Fellowship for funding the training, analyses and trip in general. We also received some additional funding from Koç University to finance part of our travel and accommodation fees.