Archaeological Science: Policies

For our NSF subsidized program, please see the call for proposal at the end of this page.


FAX: 312.665.7193  

Mail: Elemental Analysis Facility

The Field Museum

1400 S.DuSable Lake Shore Dr.  

Chicago, IL 60605

Director: Dr. Patrick Ryan Williams, Associate Director, Integrative Research Center and Associate Curator, Archaeological Science

Manager: Dr. Laure Dussubieux, Research Scientist

The EAF includes an inductively coupled plasma – mass spectrometer (ICP-MS). The ICP-MS can be fitted with two lasers. One of the lasers is dedicated to the sampling of small objects with a high throughput, whereas the second laser, a totally unique, custom-transformed apparatus, accommodates large objects. This equipment is complemented by two portable XRF instruments for totally non-invasive investigations of artifacts on the premises of the Museum or in the field. The facility is used to determine the composition, including major, minor, and trace elements, of a large range of materials in a non-destructive manner to address questions related to the archaeology of cultural production, interaction and exchange in the Americas, Africa, Oceania, Europe, and Asia.

The Elemental Analysis Facility at The Field Museum welcomes academic researchers who wish to collaborate with our scientists on the analysis of museum specimens or on topics of interest to our research group. We accept collaborations for compositional analysis of samples using well-established methods. We can also collaborate on the development of new analytical methods for specific applications.

Using laser ablation-ICP-MS, we currently have projects on the characterization of obsidian, ceramics, glass, glaze and archaeological copper alloys from around the world.  We have particular expertise in obsidian characterizations in the Andes, Mesoamerica, and the Pacific Islands; ceramic characterizations in the Andes, Mesoamerica, New Guinea, and Prehistoric Western Europe; glass and glaze characterizations from South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa; and coppers from Native South and North America.  Using ICP-MS after acid digestion, the composition of metal alloys, geological samples or inorganic constituents in organic matrices has also been determined.

Samples for laser ablation in the “standard” chamber must be less than 5 cm. Smaller sample sizes (<1 cm diameter) are preferred. Please, inquire with us in order to use the adaptable chamber laser ablation system.

Using portable XRF, we have developed research projects focused on obsidian from the Americas, the South Pacific and Western Asia. Projects involving other type of materials will be considered on a case-by-case basis. For this instrument, ideally samples should present a flat surface for analysis and have a minimum size of 1 cm. Inquire with us for more details.

All parties who wish to undertake a collaborative project in the lab must have read our collaborative research policy document, signed it and returned it to us as a pdf document or faxed. Then the following documentation should be forwarded to us for consideration:

  • a short proposal (2-4 page)  with a 250 word project summary
  • Curriculum vitae for the principal collaborator(s)
  • a list of samples (please inquire with us to obtain a template excel file)

All projects must have this documentation.

Cost recovery: Under terms stipulated in the NSF grant that established the lab, we make our facility available to researchers for a cost reimbursement.  This cost reimbursement is assessed on all projects not covered by current grants.  The costs include expendable materials and supplies (ie. Ar and He gas), prorated costs on instrument maintenance contract, and time for our technicians to work with outside users on instrument operation.  The EAF committee has assessed a charge schedule based on these operating costs.  For academic users and routine analysis, our LA-ICP-MS charge schedule is:

Materials Cost/sample

Natural or synthetic glass and glaze: $18

Ceramic or stones: $30

Metals (copper or gold): $25

Other: inquire with us

For portable XRF, costs are $5/sample for obsidian samples.

Additional charges will be applied if samples need to be run by one our staff. For the development of specific applications, additional costs may be necessary (ie. purchase of new standards or specific reagents) and will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Publication: On projects supported by grant funds, we expect the PI’s will collaborate on all primary publication of data and results, and grant funds will be acknowledged in all publications.  This acknowledges the intellectual effort put forth in the elaboration of the project for the grant, as well as the collaboration of the PI’s in the analysis and interpretation of the results.  On projects supported via cost recovery by outside researchers, all publications should be considered as collaborative projects with TFM EAF staff.

Data Sharing: All users of the EAF must provide compositional data in an excel file after completion of their project with us. The EAF must be informed of any communication or publication involving data produced via LA-ICP-MS or portable XRF. Once a Field Museum dataset has been published, we reserve the right to make that data available to the public via electronic or print means, with citation to the original published source.  We also reserve the right to archive that data as part of the museum’s information management plan.  An important part of the scientific enterprise is the ability to reproduce results; data sharing is an important part of that enterprise.  All data obtained in the EAF cannot be copyrighted by another institution; if data is not published in a reasonable amount of time (five years from data acquisition by default), the museum may make that data available with reference to the report of the analysis on file.