It’s hard to imagine how Delta Air Lines
and Hershey’s Food Corp. could help the Carlos Museum analyze
its artifacts, but the clever folks at the Carlos have come up with
innovative collaborations that take advantage of the unique capabilities
of each partner.
As the Carlos conservator, Renee Stein is in charge of contacting
these companies to solicit their help in answering particular questions
researchers at the museum have about artifacts. Of course, the museum
has forged contacts across campus to get help; a well-known example
is enlisting the help of medical researchers and technology in Emory
Hospital to examine the Ramesses mummy using X-rays and CT scans.
Stein also collaborates with people in the physics, chemistry and
environmental studies departments.
“We certainly start at home when we can,” she said.
But some questions cannot be answered with equipment at Emory. One
such challenge led Stein to Delta in search of an X-ray machine
that could penetrate a bronze statuette of a man. The machines at
the hospital simply are not powerful enough for the application.
At Delta, however, X-ray machines that can penetrate metal are used
for Non-destructive Inspections (NDI) of plane parts to search for
flaws such as fatigue cracks, wear or corrosion. “The [NDI]
inspection is usually much more sensitive to very small defects
that can’t be seen visually until they get much larger,”
said Craig Schumacher, radiation safety officer at Delta.
The statuette in question, probably of Hellenistic or early Roman
origin, had endured multiple repairs before it entered the museum
collections. Because antiquities often are assembled from multiple
works, it seemed possible that not all the parts originally belonged
To answer this question, Stein needed to look at the statue’s
joinery, and the Delta NDI lab is expert in just this kind of work.
Although Delta’s staff has collaborated on other research
projects involving plane parts, this was the first request they
had for examining ancient artifacts, and they were happy to help.
“Helping Emory by providing the use of our facilities is just
one way Delta supports the arts and education community in Atlanta,”
said Schumacher. “Here at Delta, our employees believe in
a strong spirit of giving, sharing, supporting and helping others
in any way we can.”
“It was wonderful,” Stein said, “because they
are used to looking at metal. They know their instrument well and
are can look for all the same things that we look for.”
X-rays revealed both the original joints and old repairs, and Stein
was able to determine that the various parts of the statuette truly
belonged together. That original visit to Delta occurred more than
three years ago, and since then Stein has returned twice more to
examine other metal artifacts.
“Each time has been very exciting for us and generates a tremendous
amount of interest among everyone here,” Schumacher said.
“We enjoy the break from our day-to-day work and the challenge
of helping to reveal the secrets that are sometimes hidden within
these fantastic works of art.”
Up at Hershey’s in Pennsylvania, senior staff scientist Jeffrey
Hurst also is addressing a specific need for the Carlos. When museum
curators began planning an exhibit on chocolate and encountered
research questions, where else would they go?
Chocolate was first created in Central and South America, and it
was not until after the Spanish conquest that chocolate was taken
back to Europe. Much of the Americas collection at the Carlos contains
vessels from Costa Rica, which is of particular interest to Carlos
curators because, although cocoa trees are indigenous to the area,
the Mexican and Guatemalan tradition of drinking foamy chocolate
had not yet been proven for ancient Costa Ricans.
To test for the presence of chocolate in the residue of the pots,
Hurst looks for theobromine and caffeine using high-performance
liquid chromatography (HPLC) coupled to mass spectrometry. The process
separates the material components, which allows them to be identified
by their mass. Hurst uses HPLC in his work at Hershey’s but
has now used his expertise to contribute widely to this specific
area of archeological study.
“The work I have done with archaeological groups is surely
not typical of my regular duties with Hershey’s,” Hurst
The first project he worked on stemmed from a phone call to Hershey’s
toll-free consumer line by a research group looking for help with
some samples from Guatemala. Through the published efforts of that
work, word spread among archeologists and more requests followed.
“Last year, after our paper was published in Nature,
I even had a phone call from some news organization asking me if
I was the staff archaeologist,” Hurst said. “Obviously
there is no such animal at Hershey’s.”
Although he may not be an archaeologist, Hurst is very familiar
with academia. He has his own research program and also teaches
graduate and undergraduate classes at Penn State.
“My work with organizations such as Emory is an avocation
since it is ‘detective work’ I love to do, and every
bit of information is a continuation on the learning path,”
For the Carlos, it is another case of finding the right person for
Of the six samples—“It looks just like dirt,”
she said—Stein scraped from the bottom of pots, Hurst has
detected theobromine and caffeine. Stein said they are now looking
for other likely candidates to send to the chocolate factory.