A large volume-headspace apparatus that permits the heating of pottery fragments for direct analysis by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) is described here. A series of fermented-corn beverages were produced in modern clay pots and the pots were analyzed to develop organic-species profiles for comparison with fragments of ancient pottery. Brewing pots from the Tarahumara of northern Mexico, a tribe that produces a corn-based fermented beverage, were also examined for volatile residues and the organic-species profiles were generated. Finally, organic species were generated from ancient potsherds from an archeological site and compared with the modern spectra. The datasets yielded similar organic species, many of which were identified by computer matching of the resulting mass spectra with the NIST mass spectral library. Additional analyses are now underway to highlight patterns of organic species common to all the spectra. This presentation demonstrates the utility of thermal desorption coupled with GC/MS for detecting fermentation residues in the fabric of unglazed archaeological ceramics after centuries of burial.
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Borek, T., Mowry, C. & Dean, G. Analysis of Modern and Ancient Artifacts for the Presence of Corn Beer; Dynamic Headspace Testing of Pottery Sherds from Mexico and New Mexico. MRS Online Proceedings Library 1047, 105 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1557/PROC-1047-Y01-05