Cultural Heritage Objects

The analytical chemistry research related to cultural heritage started in our group in 2003 and is specialised in conservation science, analytical chemistry of cultural heritage objects and more recently also archaeological objects.

Research interests: Investigation and development of methodologies on the basis of different instrumental techniques (ATR-FT-IR, Raman, SEM-EDS, (LA)ICP-MS, MALDI-FT-MS, ESI-and APCI-FT-MS, GC-MS etc) for the analysis of cultural heritage and related materials (paints, coatings, dyed textiles, paper components etc). The methodologies are not limited to cultural heritage: they can be used in any field of materials science because the approach is applicable also to other types of materials (for example biological samples, polymers, forensic materials etc).

An important advancement from our group is investigation into the possibilities of analysis of materials related to cultural heritage and conservation science with ATR-FT-IR spectroscopy (ATR-FT-IR) using the extended IR region of 4000-80 cm-1 (mid-IR and far-IR region). During the years ATR-FT-IR spectra of various materials (paints, coatings, mortars, textiles, etc) have been acquired in the course of different projects on historic, industrial and construction paints and coatings, as well as BSc, MSc and PhD theses. We have assembled these ATR-FT-IR spectra into a library of ATR-FT-IR spectra of various materials, which is available at http://tera.chem.ut.ee/IR_spectra/. This library currently contains over 150 IR spectra and has been described in the article that is published in the Anal. Bioanal. Chem. 2016, 408, 3373–3379.

During the recent years our work is expanding towards quantitative analysis of materials. In particular, we recently demonstrated the applicability of ATR-FT-IR with PLS data analysis for quantifying the components of paint binders and pigments as well as classification and semi-quantitative ATR-FT-IR analysis of textiles (fabrics). The developed methods were applied to the modern coatings, artistically relevant mixtures and different types of clothing. In recent studies we have used ATR-FT-IR with PCA data analysis to classification and semi-quantitative analysis of silicate minerals and paper components.

An important research topic is analysis of resinous and varnish materials used in art and archaeology with complementary chromatographic and spectroscopic techniques – ATR-FT-IR, FT-ICR-MS with MALDI, APCI, ESI sources, GC-MS etc. We have developed measurement methodology for the analysis of dammar resin with MALDI- and APCI-FT-ICR-MS. Currently, the work continues to extend and improve the measurement methodologies for resinous materials and archaeological lipids with MALDI-FT-ICR-MS using innovative features: use of positive as well as negative ion spectra; direct (without dissolution) analysis of materials; discovery and testing novel matrix and calibration compounds.

We have good collaboration with the following Estonian museums, conservation centres and archives: Art Museum of Estonia, Estonian National Museum, Conservation and Digitization Centre Kanut, the National Archives of Estonia. They have been helping us with know-how and provided real-life samples. During 13 years we have participated in altogether about 50 different projects or contracts with altogether 20 conservation organizations and museums from Estonia and abroad.

The currently running comprehensive research projects where we participate:

  • Rode Altarpiece in Close-up project related to the history, material investigation and conservation of the Retable of the High Altar of Tallinn’s St. Nicholas’ Church. This work is carried out in collaboration with the Art Museum of Estonia.


List of publications