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Science of The Lost Pigments – Using Roman Pigments to Teach Heritage Science

Craig Sproul



Year of study:



If asked to describe a stereotypical Chemist, the most common vision is that of person in a lab, boiling coloured solutions in beaker, synthesising drugs or analysing compounds. A role that is less apparent is the vital one that Chemists play in the field of Heritage Science. Heritage Science is a relatively new field of research that lies at the interface of science and art, with a focus on analysis and preservation of historical objects. My project bridges the disciplines of chemistry, archaeology and pedagogy by examining the role chemistry plays in the analysis of genuine Roman pigments used on sculptures found at both the Antonine Wall and Hadrian’s Wall. Today, only traces of these pigments remain. However, “time-travel” is possible through the combination of chemical analysis and archaeological research, allowing one to reconstruct what these painted sculptures looked like in the Roman times. Through this collaboration, an outreach and teaching unit has been developed for Advanced Higher Chemistry pupils. This teaching unit is designed, not only to support the curriculum by building and expanding on known concepts with real-world examples, but also to improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills, by “gamification” and teamwork to identify “mystery” compounds linked to real archaeological sites. My talk aims to highlight this fascinating area of research generated through the intersection of chemistry and archaeology and how it is used to engage and educate young learners.


My name is Craig and I am a final year chemistry student with the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow. Chemistry always interested me as it provides the tools to understand the composition of the world around us. For my final year project, I have been exploring the field of Heritage Science and using this to teach school pupils chemistry. Although a steep learning curve, the project has shown me the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to problems and highlighted my passion for teaching chemistry. Besides trying to be a chemist I am a keen cyclist, private pilot and all-round plane nerd.

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