A multi-analytical approach for the identification of the natural resin from the Ming tomb in Shaanxi, China

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Several well-preserved polychrome lacquered coffins were found in Zhang Dong family’s tombs in Shaanxi, China, rare in the history of archaeological excavation. In the lacquered coffins, a large amount of dark solid of suspected natural resin was unearthed with mysterious compositions and uses, exerting a tremendous fascination on archaeologists. In this work, a new method was explored for the identification of the suspected natural resin, mainly based on thermogravimetry (TG), elemental analysis (EA), scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive spectrometry (SEM-EDS), matrix-assisted laser desorption ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF-MS) and Fourier transform infrared spectrometry (FT-IR). The results suggested that the sample was mainly composed of organics with a content of 81.66% and little inorganics with a content of 2.21% by water excluded. Rosin with the main component of abietic acid (molecular formula C20H30O2) was identified as the principal component of the sample. Dehydrogenated abietic acid (DHA) and other oxides were also tested out. FT-IR confirmed the identification results. SEM revealed the rough surfaces evenly covered with holes of similar sizes. The use of this method directly obtained integral quasi-molecular ion fragments and molecular components of the sample. As a result, intricate multi-stage mass spectrometry is avoidable, which dramatically simplifies the analysis procedure. This approach is simple and effective for the identification of precious relic samples, requires no references, and has potential for the analysis of these kinds of unknown samples. Especially, for the first time, EA is used to identify natural resins from archaeological sites. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]




Guo, L., Zhang, Y., Wang, L., Zhao, X., Yang, F., Peng, M., … Wang, X. (2021). A multi-analytical approach for the identification of the natural resin from the Ming tomb in Shaanxi, China. Heritage Science, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40494-021-00586-1

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