Cultural Heritage Career Paths for Materials Scientists and Corrosion Engineers

Cultural Heritage Career Paths for Materials Scientists and Corrosion Engineers

Stavroula Golfomitsou (UCL Qatar, Qatar), Myrto Georgakopoulou (UCL Qatar, Qatar) and Thilo Rehren (UCL Qatar, Qatar)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8183-5.ch018


The study and preservation of cultural heritage is a multidisciplinary field where Materials Science and Corrosion Science have a very significant role to play. This chapter discusses how materials and corrosion scientists can follow a career in cultural heritage. It highlights the particular challenges that these disciplines encounter in the study and preservation of cultural heritage materials and the exciting career paths offered in museums, monuments, and relevant academic and research institutions. The applications for science and engineering skills to cultural materials are diverse, including the reverse engineering necessary to reconstruct ancient technologies used for materials production, the examination and condition assessment of often complex finds and structures, and the development of innovative treatment methods for their protection and conservation for future generations. Within this range of challenges and materials, numerous career paths are available that lead to specialisations within the sub-fields of archaeological science and conservation science.
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The preoccupation of scientists with cultural heritage materials has a long history that can be traced back at least to the late 18th century (Caley, 1951; 1967; Pollard & Heron, 2008, pp. 3-6; Winter, 2005). Eminent scientists, primarily chemists at the time, amongst them Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1743-1817), Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), and Michael Faraday (1791-1867) were drawn to the analysis of ancient coins, glass, glazes, and pigments. These intermittent studies, driven primarily by curiosity, offered invaluable early insights into the composition and manufacture of ancient artefacts. Several of these analytical studies were incorporated as appendices in the publication of major archaeological discoveries, such as A. H. Layard’s 1853 ‘Discoveries in the Ruins of Niniveh and Babylon’ and H. Schliemann’s 1878 ‘Mycenae’, marking the start of the collaboration between archaeologists and scientists (Pollard & Heron, 2008, p. 5).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Deterioration, Weathering: The effects of time and environmental conditions on materials.

Heritage Science: A relatively recent term used to encompass all the technological and scientific work that can benefit the field of heritage, whether through improved management decisions, better understanding of significance and cultural values or increased public engagement.

Archaeological Science, Archaeometry: The application of techniques and methods from the physical and natural sciences to address archaeological questions.

Non-Destructive, Non-Invasive Techniques: Analytical techniques that do not alter the physical state of an object.

Cultural Heritage: The wealth of physical remains, artefacts and buildings, as well as intangible expressions, folklore, traditions, and practices that are uncovered or passed on from one generation to the next, as witnesses of the local and universal past.

Material Culture: The physical evidence (artefacts, architecture) of a culture.

Museum: A non-profit, permanent institution that serves society and its development. The role of the museum is to acquire, conserve, research, communicate and exhibit the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of mankind’s education, study, and enjoyment.

Conservation Science: The application of techniques and methods from the physical and natural sciences to characterise materials, assess condition, and propose sustainable treatments for cultural heritage preservation.

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