The focus is application of materials research to archaeology, conservation and long-term preservation through such techniques as characterization and testing of materials, cultural objects and archaeological artifacts, and the replication and analysis of critical properties, processes and performance characteristics. The MSE department has a special graduate program in Heritage Conservation Science, the only dedicated program in the United States, in collaboration with the Conservation Laboratory of the Arizona State Museum. Unique MSE undergraduate classes and studies are offered at the Laboratory for Cultural Materials. In addition, Vandiver has helped to develop the interdisciplinary scope of this program at the University of Arizona by advising in the new B.S. in archaeometry in the department of anthropology and the revised graduate certificate in Heritage Conservation in the College of Architecture + Planning + Landscape Architecture offered through the Drachman Institute.
My research is aimed at reverse-engineering ancient pyrotechnologies by assessing systematic flaws, identifying rate-limiting steps and discovering what people had to know and use to invent, practice and modify these technologies. Such analysis and reconstruction of a technology can occur only when artifactual changes due to use-wear and post-depositional changes have been characterized. Single objects are studied to establish the presence of a technology; the study of variability and especially of errors is required to characterize a
technology. My research has focused on inorganic materials: ceramics, glasses, glazes, pigments, plasters, enamels, metals, slags and soils used in the built environment.