September 2021 Kentucky Lake Section Meeting

Mass Spectrometric Analysis
of Organic Compounds
Extracted From Prehistoric Greek Pottery

Presented by Vernon Stafford

Ph.D. Student, UT Knoxville (Dr. David Jenkins Lab)

Vernon Stafford

Tuesday, September 20th 2022 

at Union University Carl Grant Center
Jackson, TN 38305

Dinner @ 6:00 pm, Presentation @ 7:00 pm

Dinner Menu: Caesar Salad, Chicken Marsala, Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Buffet Potatoes (Hashbrown Casserole), Sautéed Green Beans, and Chocolate Explosion w/ ice cream

Dinner Price is $10 (Students $5)

The analysis of physical artifacts is the chief method by which archaeologists and anthropologists can gain information about prehistoric societies. Ceramic pottery, a common artifact and very porous material, can absorb and trap organic compounds related to the substances originally processed in them, protecting those compounds from oxidative and bacterial degradation and preserving them for thousands of years. This is especially true for fatty acids, which are hydrophobic and less prone to water leeching, and are also a primary component of many foods. We have taken advantage of this phenomenon to conduct chemical analysis on cooking pots from the prehistoric site of Mitrou, Greece, occupied during the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. In order to extract fatty acids from these vessels and relate them to their original substance, we have employed a combined procedure that both extracts fatty acids from the vessel and converts them to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) in a single step. These FAMEs were then analyzed by three different gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) techniques. In particular, we performed qualitative analysis by GC-EI-MS, quantitative analysis by GC-APCI-MS, and compound-specific isotope ratio analysis by GC-C-IRMS. By these methods, we have discovered a shift in cooking practices that coincides with the rise of the more dominant Mycenaean society, providing evidence for the suppression of the local Mitrou culture in favor of the external one. This analysis represents one of the first of its kind conducted on cooking pots from this region and era, and sheds light on how local societies may have interacted with larger foreign ones.

Bio: Vernon Stafford graduated from Union University with a B.S. in chemistry in 2017. During his time there, he served as an officer in Union’s SMACS chapter and did summer research under Dr. Joshua Williams, evaluating the quality and purity of commercial fish oil dietary supplements using quantitative NMR and ICP-OES. Since, then, he has been in pursuit of a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville under the direction of Dr. David Jenkins. His research focuses on the analysis of fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) extracted from prehistoric Greek pottery, with the goal of answering questions of anthropological relevance. In addition, he is interested in developing an improved method for the determination of wine residues in ancient ceramics. Outside of his research, Vernon has spent time participating in UT’s ACGS chapter, teaching undergraduate courses, mentoring undergraduates, and managing one of the department’s high-resolution mass spectrometers. He plans to graduate in Spring 2022.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s