Characterization of surface materials on African sculptures: New insights from a multi-analytical study including proteomics

Clara Granzotto*, Ken Sutherland, Young Ah Goo, Amra Aksamija

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Multiple analytical techniques were used to characterize materials from the surfaces of two African sculptures in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago: A Bamana power object (boli), and a Yoruba wooden sculpture of a female figure. Surface accretions on objects such as these have received relatively little scientific attention to elucidate their composition and function, in part because they are made with complex mixtures of natural materials, which are often unfamiliar and poorly represented in the scientific literature on artists' materials. For this reason, a complement of techniques including Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry were applied, along with shotgun proteomics to better understand the nature and biological origin, down to the species level, of the proteinaceous materials. The results highlighted the presence of diverse materials including plant resins, oils, polysaccharides, and inorganic (clay or earth) compounds. In particular, mass spectrometry-based proteomics provided new insights on proteinaceous components, allowing us to identify the presence of sacrificial blood, and more specifically, blood from chicken, goat, sheep and dog. This new scientific evidence supports and supplements knowledge derived from curatorial and field work studies, and opens new doors to understanding the objects' significance and history of use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3305-3316
Number of pages12
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 21 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry


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