Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Forensic Anthropology Option)

Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Randall Skelton

Commitee Members

Kelly Dixon, Nathan Goodale, Bethany Hauer


artifacts, ethnography, XRF, anthropology, museum


University of Montana


This thesis focuses on the X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) testing that was performed on the University of Montana’s (UM) ethnographic collection. This collection is housed in a repository in the UM Anthropological Curation Facility (UMACF). The main concern over the artifacts and the reason behind the decision to perform such testing was to determine if any hazardous pesticides were used as part of past conservation treatments on the collection over the course of its history at the University of Montana. The XRF tests were performed during the winter of 2011-2012 on over 350 artifacts. The results had been previously unanalyzed. The result of the scanning yielded 844 graphs showing the levels of nine different heavy metals and elements. These elements included arsenic, lead, mercury, bromine, barium, selenium, cadmium, chromium, and antimony, all of which can be hazardous to humans who may interact with the artifacts. Further, the presence of some of these elements, such as bromine, may indicate that items were treated with pesticides. A sample of 131 of the artifacts and 258 of the test results showed high concentrations of arsenic, lead, and antimony on a majority of the artifacts. The cause of the readings could be from a variety of means ranging from the manufacturing process of the items, environmental influences, or pesticide dust from a previous application. The pesticide lead arsenate, however, uses all three of the metals, lead, arsenic, and antimony. The presence of these three metals and the high correlation between the concentration of lead and the concentration of arsenic could be indicators that this pesticide was used in the collection. The conclusion of the testing showed that although these elements may be detected on the artifact, the results of XRF testing are inconclusive. XRF can provide researchers with the information that the element is present but lacks any method to explain the reason behind it. Further tests at the UMACF could prove vital in explaining these results. Until these additional tests are complete, caution, such as using nitrile gloves and respirators should be used in the collection when handling the artifacts.



© Copyright 2014 Alexis Berger