General Information

The Archaeometry Laboratory at MURR

The Archaeometry Laboratory at the University of Missouri Research Reactor was created in 1988 with support from the National Science Foundation. Although the lab had conducted archaeological research before this time, the laboratory-support grant awarded by the NSF allowed the laboratory to begin conducting research on a much broader scale. The laboratory offers a variety of analytical services to the archaeological community, and encourages the integration of analytical sciences into all aspects of anthropology and archaeology.

Click here to read a non-technical summary about the Archaeometry Laboratory and to view three case studies of research conducted here

History & Activities

Prior to 1988, archaeological research at MURR was conducted on a part-time basis by several individuals: James Vogt, David Ives, Jeremy Edward and Mike Glascock. The Archaeometry Laboratory at MURR was formally established in 1988 following receipt of a laboratory-support grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Since 1990, the principal investigators of the laboratory have included Mike Glascock, Hector Neff, Robert (Jeff) Speakman, Jeffrey Fegurson, and Brandi Lee MacDonald. The initial and subsequent NSF grants have significantly reduced analytical costs for academic researchers from the USA who would otherwise lack access to archaeometric instrumentation. In addition to funding from the NSF, the laboratory is supported by cost-recovery charges for consumables used on NSF-subsidized projects, by service contracts with federal agencies (e.g., National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management), and by service-oriented analyses for the cultural resource management (CRM) industry.

Since 1988, the Archaeometry Laboratory at MURR has supported hundreds of research projects and conducted analyses of more than 170,000 archaeological specimens. Additionally, the lab has provided research training and employment for more than 30 students from the University of Missouri and more than 100 graduate students from other universities on dissertation and thesis projects. Laboratory staff have organized workshops and symposia at local, national, and international professional conferences, and they have published more than 500 scholarly articles in journals and book chapters.

Facilities and Instrumentation

[The Blue Glow] MURR is a multi-disciplinary research and education center operated by the University of Missouri (MU) and is located in Columbia, Missouri. The Research Reactor provides MU with opportunities for research and graduate education in neutron-related sciences and engineering that are unmatched by any other university. The central focus of this research is the 10 MW light-water-moderated reactor—the highest-powered university research reactor in the North America. The reactor has a 150+ hour per week (90% of available time) operating schedule, the best operating schedule for any research reactor in the world.

In 2000, the Archaeometry Laboratory began adding other analytical capabilities to enhance its ability to support archaeometric research. The first addition was a VG Elemental Axiom SC magnetic sector high-resolution inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (HR-ICP-MS) and laser ablation system. This instrumentation provided the ability to analyze samples by both microwave digestion and laser ablation. In 2010 , the laboratory acquired a 193 nm Excimer laser ablation system with improved optics for microscopic samples and a NuPlasma multicollector ICP-MS for isotopic ratios at high resolution. Other equipment includes two hand-held energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (ED-XRF) spectrometers. One of the spectrometers is connected to an automated sample changer. The addition of these complementary techniques has enhanced the capabilities of the laboratory to support a broad range of archaeological research.

Equipment at the laboratory includes a fume hood, muffle furnace, drying oven, analytical balances, laboratory press, glove box, rock saws, petrographic microscopes, mixer mill, and binocular microscopes. The laboratory operates four high-purity germanium (HPGe) detectors coupled to automatic sample changers, and it shares use of two other detectors with other MURR research groups. Data processing and report generation are handled on the MURR intranet of IBM-compatible computers. The laboratory maintains archival specimens from most archaeological projects conducted there.

Archaeometry Laboratory Staff and Students

The MURR Archaeometry Laboratory is operated by a team of skilled scientists, technicians and students.

Principal Investigators

Dr. Michael D. Glascock (Ph.D., 1975, Iowa State University) is a Research Professor and Group Leader of the Archaeometry Lab. He has over 35 years of experience with NAA and gamma-ray spectroscopy as applied to archaeology, geochemistry, and environmental science. His current research focus involves obsidian source and artifact characterization in the Western Hemisphere.

Dr. Jeffrey R. Ferguson (Ph.D., 2007, University of Colorado) is a Research Assistant Professor with an interest in archaeology in western North America and eastern Africa.

Dr. Brandi L. MacDonald (Ph.D., 2015, McMaster University-Canada) is a Sr. Research Specialist in the Archaeometry Lab. She is responsible for supervising our student employees. Dr. MacDonald is interested in provenance and quarrying studies, the archaeology of trade and exchange, landscape archaeology, and museum studies.

Technical Staff

This position is currently vacant.

Post-doctoral Research Fellows

Dr. Daniel Pierce (Ph.D., 2017, University of Missouri-Columbia). His research in focused on trade and exchange of obsidian and ceramics in western Mexico prior to the Spanish Conquest.

Dr. Virginie Renson (Ph.D., 2012, Vrije Universiteit Brussel-Belgium). Her PhD dissertation focused on the use of lead isotopes as tracers for pottery provenance in the Eastern Mediterranean. Virginie’s contribution at MURR involves the development of isotopic analyses on archaeological material using the Nu Plasma II MC-ICP-MS. [Visit Virginie's home page]


One MU graduate student: Amanda Werlein (Department of Chemistry) and several undergraduates are working on research projects in the Archaeometry Lab. The undergraduates are primarily responsible for sample preparation and irradiation of archaeological specimens by NAA and they participate in other research involving XRF and ICP-MS.

Interns and Visitors

We occasionally support visiting Ph.D. candidates from other U.S. academic institutions and from other countries for short- and long-term visits. These opportunities are not continuous and depend on our available funding and the funding support the visitor brings with them.

Recent visitors to the Archaeometry Lab include:

Jian Zhu (April 2017 to present) &mdash conducting research on Chinese porcelain, glazes, and glass beads. Also, investigating clays used to produce the Terracotta soldiers in Xian, China.

Estefania Calparsoro (Summer 2016) — conducting research on ceramics from the Basque region by neutron activation analysis.

Wugan Luo (March 2015 to February 2016) — conducting research on Chinese pottery and ancient Chinese metallurgy using both NAA and lead isotopes.

Non-MURR collaborators

Dr. Robert (Jeff) Speakman, former Senior Research Specialist at the MURR Archaeometry Laboratory, is currently Associate Director of the Center for Applied Isotope Studies, University of Georgia. Jeff maintains interests in Mimbres ceramics from the American Southwest and in obsidian from Beringia.

Dr. Matthew T. Boulanger, former Senior Research Specialist at the MURR Archaeometry Laboratory, is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Southern Methodist University. Matt has interests in archaeometry, evolutionary theory, landscape ecology, and Pleistocene extinctions.

Dr. Hector Neff, (Ph.D., 1984, U of California–Santa Barbara), former Senior Research Scientist at the MURR Archaeometry Laboratory from 1990 to 2002, is a Professor of Anthropology at California State University–Long Beach, and he collaborates with the Archaeometry Lab by maintaining the ceramic databases.  He is interested in investigating ancient production and exchange of artifacts, including obsidian, pottery, and chert/flint. His specific research areas include both Pacific coastal and highland Guatemala.

Other students and faculty from MU's Department of Anthropology, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Department of Geological Sciences, and Department of Chemistry are frequently involved in research projects being conducted in the Archaeometry Lab at MURR. One of these is Candace Sall who is studying southwestern ceramics with NAA and LA-ICP-MS.

Data Exchanges & Inter-Laboratory Collaborations

The Archaeometry Lab maintains a continuous information exchange with scientists from the earlier-established NAA programs at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the British Museum, as well as with those using other analytical techniques for compositional research (e.g., ICP-MS at California State University – Long Beach; XRF at Northwest Obsidian Research Laboratory and the Berkeley Geoachaeological XRF Lab). The main reason for maintaining ties is the desire to promote inter-comparability of pottery and obsidian data through the use of common standards. More importantly, successful exchanges of data have been conducted as a means of maximizing the return on the investments in NAA conducted for archaeology over the past 50 years. When merged with data from the other laboratories, the overall compositional data bank of over 150,000 analyses becomes an outstanding tool for archaeological research.


The Archaeometry Lab gratefully acknowledges the support it has received from the National Science Foundation through laboratory-support grants and research equipment grants. Our colleagues at the University of Missouri and other universities and the staff an MURR continue to be strongly supportive. This support has helped to make the Archaeometry Lab a successful operation for the tremendous benefit of archaeological science. 

Research performed by the Archaeometry Laboratory at MURR after August 2016 is supported by the National Science Foundation under our current grant number 1621158. Earlier research was supported by several NSF grants including the following: 1415403, 1110793, 8801707, 9102016, 9503035, 9802366, 9977237, 0102325, 0405042, 0504015, 0802757, 0922374, and 0802757. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Last Updated on June 2, 2017
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