Developments in the analysis of materials: Ancient Egyptian paint binders

Richard Newman and Susana Halpine

Abstract

A survey project applying modern chromatographic analytical procedures to the identification of binders in ancient Egyptian paintings on a variety of substrates is being carried out, drawing primarily on artifacts from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Most samples are being analyzed by three separate procedures in order to identify different classes of materials that may be present: proteins (such as animal glue) are being determined by high performance liquid chromatography; carbohydrates (such as plant gums) by gas chromatography / mass spectrometry; other materials (including wax and natural resins) also being identified by gas chromatography / mass spectrometry. Egyptian paint binders have long been assumed to be mainly animal glue or plant gums. Analyses carried out to date have confirmed that this is often the case. Also, more that one medium was used on some artifacts. Varnishes or other coatings on partially polychromed artifacts often incorporate non-water soluble materials such as waxes or resins.