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Lehrstuhl für Geologie und Lagerstättenlehre

Herkunftsbestimmung antiker Marmore

During the last decades several attempts have been made to determine the provenance of marbles used in ancient architecture and sculpture. To pinpoint the place of origin of the marble to an area or even to a special quarry may be of appreciable importance in investigating ancient trading routes and trade relations. A material-specific classification can be conducive to understand if the workshops of an area used marbles of acceptable quality from a local quarry or quarrying areas or if they used imported marbles in or without combination with local ones. Furthermore during restoration activities the knowledge of the origin of the marbles used in architecture may be of importance for supplying more or less original types of marbles. It may also be of interest for evaluating the authenticity of an artifact information on the provenance of the used material.

 At the end of the 19 th century Lepsius (1891) used petrographic investigations to discriminate between different classical marbles. Some decades later instrumental chemical analyses, especially the analysis of trace elements, were used to find new criteria for ascribing a marble to a specific source (e.g. Rybach and Nissen 1965). In the last decades multi-element neutron activation analysis (NAA) of various trace elements was attempted to pinpoint the origins of marbles (e.g. Oddone et al. 1985; Grimanis and Vassilaki-Grimani 1988; Mello et al. 1988; Moens et al. 1992).

 With the advent of stable isotope analysis of carbonate rocks, a new method seemed to be at the archaeologists’ hand to assign a marble sample precisely to its origin. After the pioneering work of Craig and Craig in 1972 on the classical marbles of the Greek islands, legions of papers have been published on this topic. However, with the rapidly increasing number of historical marble quarrying sites and with the increasing number of analyzed samples in general, the compositional fields in the isotope diagram became larger and many classical marbles showed relatively large ranges of overlap. The most important and widely used databanks for stable isotope data of marbles were established by Herz (1987), Gorgoni et al. (2002), and Attanasio et al. (2006).

 Other analytical techniques based on isotope analysis, such as Sr isotopes (e.g., Brilli et al. 2005), have been attempted for this purpose, but still lack a substantial database and are usually too expensive to analyze large numbers of samples. The majority of researchers consider only a multi-method approach to assign white marble samples reliably to their original sources.

 During the last years we developed an additional method for investigating the provenance of marbles. By no means it is intended to substitute other established methods. The approach presented below to characterize marbles in general is expected to contribute substantially to the solution of the problem of the provenance of marbles and offers some fundamental advantages compared to different methods so far used for this purpose. Especially in cases where these procedures do not sufficiently discriminate between different samples or sample sets, this additional analytical approach may substantially increase the degree of discernability of different marble sources. Recently this method has been applied to investigate the origin of the marbles within the course of different projects.

The mausoleum of Belevi near Ephesos

The 2 dipteroi of the sanctuary of Artemis Ephesia

The marbles of the “Badminton Sarcophagus” in the Met in New York

The Docimian marble of the Ludovisi and Capitoline Gauls of the Pergamene Dedication

Finegrained dolomitic marble of sculptural quality from Macedonia

Projects in progress

  • The ancient marble quarries and the use of marble artifacts in Eastern Bulgaria
  • Use and trade of ancient marbles in the Balkans (Felix Romuliana, Iustiniana Prima, Sirmium)
  • The giant architecture of the Serapis temple in Ephesos
  • Roman marble findings in St. Georgen Styria/Austria
  • The marble portraits of the Musée Saint-Raymond, Toulouse/France