Institute of Archaeology


Umberto Veronesi

Umberto Veronesi

The archaeology of laboratory experiments and early chemistry. Oxford to Jamestown and back

Umberto Veronesi

Email: umberto.veronesi.13@ucl.ac.uk
Section: Archaeological Sciences




The archaeology of laboratory experiments and early chemistry. Oxford to Jamestown and back

Historians of science increasingly emphasise the importance of early materials and experiments in shaping scientific theories and use artefacts as sources of information. Such recent approaches aims to explore the practical side of alchemy, addressing questions such as what it meant to do alchemy, what chemical operations were carried out in the laboratories and using which instruments and knowledge. Archaeological science analyses are allowing unprecedented insight into experiments and underlying ideas, opening up radically new approaches that challenge the tired myths about alchemy, chemistry and industry as isolated fields. The public (and most academics) visualise early modern alchemists as shadowy figures typically far removed from universities and rational thinking while recent historiography has convincingly shown the great impact such experiments had on scientific and technological advancements.

Exploring the practice of alchemy through the lenses of the archaeological materials coming from early chemical laboratories this project seeks to use scientific archaeology as a means to inform historical research and questions. The objects coming from two major early modern laboratories will be the centre of the study. On one hand the remains of Oxford University's Officina Chimica, established in the late 17th century and home to the first Chair of Chemistry in the country, a place founded on radical ambitions that amalgamated alchemical theories and goals, utopian aspirations of human progress, and a firm belief in experimental science. On the other hand the British colony of Jamestown in Virginia, where colonists sent from Europe were experimenting with a new environment in an industrial effort to produce profitable goods.

Using the range of experiments carried on at these two sites this project will investigate the links between the many facets of early modern alchemy, an activity that encompassed speculative as well as productive efforts in different contexts, exposing the blurring boundaries between craft and science. The objects, mostly crucibles with residues in them, will be screened non-invasively by portable XRF prior to selecting specific samples for more detailed investigation by SEM-EDS. This will allow to discern the raw materials employed, engineering parameters and the types of glass created




  • MSc Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials, UCL, 2014.
  • BA Archaeology, Sapeinza Universita di Roma, 2013.

    Rehren, Th., Veronesi, U., Straube, B., Martinón-Torres, M., 2019. Glassmaking tests at early Jamestown? Some new thoughts and data, Journal of Glass Studies.


    Veronesi, U., 2019. Archaeology and early modern glassmaking recipes. The case of Oxford’s Old Ashmolean laboratory. Post appeared on “The Recipes Project” blog.

    Veronesi, U., Martinón-Torres, M., 2018. Glass and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe: An Analytical Study of Glassware from the Oberstockstall Laboratory in Austria, Angewandte Chemie International Edition 57, 7346-7350.

    Martinón-Torres, M., Lobo Guerrero, J., Veronesi, U., White, H., 2018. Goldsmithing traditions and innovations in colonial Colombia: an analytical study of crucibles from Santa Cruz de Mompox, Post Medieval Archaeology.

    Freund, K.P., Amicone, S., Berthold, C., Tykot, R.H. (forthcoming). Early Metallurgy in Sardinia: Characterizing the Evidence from Su Coddu, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

    Conference papers

    Veronesi, U., The Philosophers and the Crucibles: Chymical Practice from the Old Ashmolean Laboratory, Oxford. Paper presented at the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry post-graduate workshop, 24 November 2018, London, UK.

    Veronesi, U., Rewriting the book: Archaeology and experimental glass from the first British colony in America. Paper presented at the international conference “Learning by the Book: Manuals and Handbooks in the History of Knowledge”, 6-10 June 2018, Princeton, NJ. Blog post here

    Veronesi, U., The material side of scientific workspaces: Chemical glassware from Oberstockstall, Austria. Paper presented at the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry post-graduate workshop, 1-2 December 2017, Philadelphia, PA.

    Bayol, C., Bully, S., Loisel, C., Van Wersch, L., Veronesi, U., Les vitraux du haut Moyen Âge de Baume-les-Messieurs (Jura, France). Paper presented at the 8e Colloque International de l’Association Francaise pour l’Archeologie du verre, Le Verre du VIII au XVI siècle en Europe Occidentale, 5-7 Decembre 2016, Besancon, France.

    Veronesi, U., Radivojević, M., Ermolaeva, A., Eržanova, A., Metal from the great steppe: Bronze Age Metal Production at Taldysaj, central Kazakhstan. A pilot study. Paper presented at the International Open Workshop “Socio-Environmental Dynamics over the Last 12,000 Years: The Creation of Landscapes”, 20-24 March 2017, Kiel, Germany.