This study assessed ways compositional analysis, facilitated by portable X-ray fluorescence technology (PXRF), can be applied in the museum setting to resolve provenance issues and other collections management questions. A major segment of the study evaluated PXRF as a non-invasive geochemical analysis technique to address concerns about whether the resolution of results is sufficient to draw meaningful conclusions. Compositional analysis, mainly facilitated by PXRF, was successfully applied to three clay artifact collections from the southwestern United States. Pottery sherds from Fourmile Ruin were analyzed using PXRF and compared to analyses from invasive wavelength-dispersive XRF and X-ray diffraction techniques. Expanding the data associated with the artifacts increases the collection's research value. The results of hierarchical clustering suggest further compositional analysis of Fourmile Ruin ceramics to verify this study's conclusions and evaluate current assumptions regarding where certain wares are produced. The iconic Pilling figurine collection was analyzed using scanning electron microscopy and PXRF to evaluate the authenticity of a figurine that had been returned after being lost for forty years. The geochemical tests confirmed the results from the basketry-imprint analysis that the returned figurine was the missing figurine, allowing the museum to restore the artifact's provenance. A pot being offered as a potential donation was analyzed using PXRF to evaluate if there was evidence of forgery or previous repair and help the museum decide whether or not to accept the donation. The study concluded the vessel has not been constructed or partially reconstructed using plaster of Paris. If the vessel has been constructed or partially reconstructed using pieced-together pottery sherds, they all came from a similar clay source. Based on these results, the museum decided to accept the pot as a donation. This study demonstrates the viability of PXRF as a useful geochemical research technique, particularly in cases where higher resolution invasive and destructive analysis techniques are not permitted. It establishes that PXRF can be used to authenticate and restore provenance both within a collection of objects and within a single object. Compositional analysis facilitated by PXRF can be a valuable tool in museum collections management and research.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





portable X-ray fluorescence, ceramics, museum collections, Fourmile Ruin, Ancestral Pueblo, Pilling, Fremont, compositional analysis



Included in

Geology Commons