Asphalt has been used since antiquity for various purposes and by painters since the 17th century. Asphalt as a pigment material with a known pre-19th century provenance is extremely rare. The analytical pyrolysis techniques of direct temperature-resolved mass spectrometry (DTMS) and pyrolysis gas liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) were applied to characterise a unique "asphalt" sample from a painting materials collection dating from the early 19th century. The provenance of this sample was investigated by comparison with a sample from a present day floating asphalt from the Dead Sea. DTMS demonstrated a complex envelope of ions from hydrocarbons ranging past m/z 1000 in both samples. Both samples showed evaporating sets of compounds as well as pyrolysing materials evolving from asphaltenes. Asphaltene network polymers were marked by aliphatic cross-links releasing alkenes and alkanes, and aromatic centres releasing alkylbenzenes, alkylnaphthalenes, alkylanthracenes, alkylphenanthrenes, and alkylbenzothiophenes. Hopanoid hydrocarbons and C-ring monoaromatic steroid hydrocarbons were among the biomarker compounds identified. Particularly striking were homologous series of alkylbenzothiophenes and alkyldibenzothiophenes with long hydrocarbon chains that could be traced with DTMS and confirmed by DTMS/MS. The results indicate that the early 19th century "asphalt" sample from the Hafkenscheid collection is indeed a true asphalt that shows many similarities to the Dead Sea asphalt sample, which is therefore proposed as the possible region of provenance.

Includes erratum: J. Anal. Appl. Pyrolysis 64(2002) 123–124

J. Anal. Appl. Pyrolysis

Languri, G. M., van der Horst, J., & Boon, J. J. (2002). Characterisation of a unique "asphalt" sample from the early 19th century Hafkenscheid painting materials collection by analytical pyrolysis MS and GC/MS. J. Anal. Appl. Pyrolysis, 63, 171–196.