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The chemistry of conservation: Chemistry Central's new journal Heritage Science

BioMed Central

A lost statue found inside the walls of St Petersburg's Winter Palace in 2010 was created in Italy by a Russian artist in 1891, according to a paper in the inaugural issue of Chemistry Central's new journal Heritage Science. This is one of seven papers that will be published, along with an editorial, in the launch edition.

The sculpture, Fugitive Slave, was influenced by the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and presented at an exhibition in Chicago in 1893. Since then it was lost, and found in a seriously damaged state. Kamilla Kalinina and colleagues at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg conducted a detailed examination of the materials and techniques used when the sculpture was created. It has now been restored back to its former glory and can be admired in the museum.

The twentieth century was unique in its mass international desecration of our global historic heritage, states an Editorial in the launch issue of Heritage Science. The international focus was on modernisation, and more practical matters, than maintaining heritage collections. From the 1970s onwards we began to look back and conservation has slowly become the order of the day.

The field of heritage science has grown significantly. Improvements in technology mean that analytical chemistry, imaging, mathematical modelling and computer visualisation are increasingly efficient tools to study the provenance of culturally important objects as well as problems with their degradation due to modern changes in the environment including climate change and urban pollution. Heritage Science is a peer reviewed, open access, journal, that emphasises the use of scientific methods for the study of our heritage.

The diversity of applications and techniques is evident in the journal's first papers. As well as the analysis of 'Fugitive Slave', a study of ancient amber objects looks at their geographical origins and hence trade routes between different civilisations. Another paper studies medieval coins from Hungary and shows how they can be distinguished by their metal content according to the different reigns of their kings. A study of gold medallions in the Royal Palace in Seville, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest Royal Palace in Europe still in use, shows that the gilding is quite modern and does not correspond to the original 14th century artwork.

Further papers discuss the influence of humidity on our heritage, especially the fabric of historic buildings, and model the flow of particles in a library in Prague - how they penetrate paper - which is an important question that needs answering for the long term conservation of books. A comprehensive review looks at fine particulate matter, a factor that can lead to degradation of objects in museums and libraries and is especially significant due to modern life styles causing pollution, especially in urban centres where the majority of museums and historic buildings are found.

Editor-in-Chief Richard Brereton writes in the editorial: Scientific approaches can tell more and move our study of heritage from descriptive to deductive. By examining the pigments in a painting can we tell how it was painted, where it was painted and whether it's a forgery? By looking at dyes in a textile can we find out about the origin of manufacture and the geographical route it took. By analysing the metal content of a coin can we tell about the economic factors of the time?

Prof Brereton commented, "There are rapid changes in methods used to study objects in museums, ranging from imaging (for example looking at hidden layers in paintings without destroying them) to probes that can be pointed to an object such as a book using spectroscopy to tell about its chemical composition without taking samples. Heritage Science has a strong international editorial board from Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia, including scientists working both in academia and museums. Just as many biologists once sat in jungles describing new species but now most work in laboratories, so in heritage and museum studies the scientist of the future may be wearing a white coat measuring samples on the latest instrument rather than cataloguing objects in a museum cupboard and this is likely to represent the future of this rapidly evolving science."

Jan Kuras, Publisher at Chemistry Central, commented: "We're excited to launch a new journal especially in such a topical subject area. Articles describing chemical research and analysis of materials, objects, artworks and buildings of cultural and historical significance will enhance the diversity of the Chemistry Central portfolio, and will be of interest to researchers in academia, museums and conservation institutes, and frequently the general public too. All articles will be open access ensuring permanent unrestricted data access for all readers, wherever they are located."


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Notes to Editors

1. Editorial: Editorial
Richard G Brereton Heritage Science 2013, 1:1

Classification of Hungarian medieval silver coins using X-ray fluorescent spectroscopy and multivariate data analysis Anita Rácz, Karoly Heberger, Róbert Rajkó and János Elek Heritage Science 2013, 1:2

Temporal humidity variations in the heritage climate of south east England Peter Brimblecombe Heritage Science 2013, 1:3

Non-Invasive Analytical Techniques Applied to Characterize the Components of Ancient Golden Medallions Jose Luis Perez-Rodriguez, María Dolores Robador, María del Carmen Jiménez de Haro, Jose María Martínez-Blanes, Isabel Garofano, Carlos Odriozola and Adrian Duran Heritage Science 2013, 1:4

Recovery and Examination of sculpture group 'Fugitive Slave' by V. Beklemishev Kamilla B Kalinina, Sander Habets, E Tarasova and S Petrova Heritage Science 2013, 1:5

Analytical pyrolysis with in-situ silylation, Py(HMDS)-GC/MS, for the chemical characterization of archaeological and historical amber objects Maria Perla Colombini, Erika Ribechini, Marco Rocchi and Paola Selleri Heritage Science 2013, 1:6

Deposition of suspended fine particulate matter in a library Jiří Smolík1, Ludmila Mašková, Naděda Zíková, Lucie Ondráčková, and Jakub Ondráček Heritage Science 2013, 1:7

Fine particulate matter in indoor cultural heritage: a literature review Josep Grau-Bové and Matija Strlic Heritage Science 2013, 1:8

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

2. Heritage Science is an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed research covering:

  • Understanding of the manufacturing processes, provenances, and environmental contexts of material types, objects, and buildings, of cultural significance including their historical significance.
  • Understanding and prediction of physico-chemical and biological degradation processes of cultural artefacts, including climate change, and predictive heritage studies.
  • Development and application of analytical and imaging methods or equipments for non-invasive, non-destructive or portable analysis of artwork and objects of cultural significance to identify component materials, degradation products and deterioration markers.
  • Development and application of invasive and destructive methods for understanding the provenance of objects of cultural significance.
  • Development and critical assessment of treatment materials and methods for artwork and objects of cultural significance.
  • Development and application of statistical methods and algorithms for data analysis to further understanding of culturally significant objects.
  • Publication of reference and corpus datasets as supplementary information to the statistical and analytical studies above.
  • Description of novel technologies that can assist in the understanding of cultural heritage.

3. BioMed Central ( is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector. @BioMedCentral

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