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Interview - Jiayi Li

by Fanny Dubray - published on , updated on

On 7 June 2019, Jiayi Li defended a thesis initiated in 2015 under the title "Methodological developments in imaging and new physico-chemical apprehension of archaeological textiles in linen of the ancient East (3rd and 2nd BC)" in the amphitheatre of SOLEIL.

Could you describe the objet of your current studies?

I work on archaeological textiles in direct contact or close to corroded metal substrates - copper, to be precise. Some of them are five thousand year old. Under normal conditions, textiles are organic materials that degrade very quickly once they are buried. In some rare cases, their proximity to corroded copper materials allows their preservation, which is what I try to understand.
The objects I am working on come from three archaeological sites in the ancient East: Tello in Iraq, Naushahro in Pakistan and Gonur-depe in Turkmenistan.

My supervisors are Loïc Bertrand, Director of IPANEMA, and Ariane Thomas, Heritage Curator and Head of Mesopotamian Collections in the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the Louvre Museum.

You work in different laboratories: How does it work?

I stay at IPANEMA most of the time, working on methodological development, which is at the heart of my study on hydrogen systems. I sometimes go to the GEMAC laboratory to make some measurements. And I also visit the Louvre Museum and the Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac Museum to see and photograph the objects I study, and to collect elements of the archaeological and cultural context about them.

How exactly did you hear about IPANEMA?

After a degree in fundamental chemistry in China, I joined France for a master’s degree in analytical, physical and theoretical chemistry. I then did an internship at C2RMF on the chemistry of adhesives in easel paints. I have always been interested in heritage and archaeology: I come from a region in China where there are a large number of historical monuments due to a major dynasty. During my internship, I expressed my desire to work on archaeology and my colleagues put me in touch with IPANEMA.

How would you describe IPANEMA to a future doctoral or post-doctoral fellow?

It is a good laboratory, well organized, despite its modest size. IPANEMA is located on the site of SOLEIL synchrotron and it is a great advantage to have such direct access to the light lines. The colleagues, in addition to being good scientists, have extensive experience in instrumentation and methodology. It is an ideal laboratory to welcome students in hard sciences. I learned to develop my own perspective on my research, to dig into the literature, to find a new subject, to conduct an experiment, to develop a methodology... It was at IPANEMA that I became a researcher! And I also really enjoyed seeing my colleagues outside working hours.

Have you had the opportunity to present your work in a conference?

I presented my work at the archaeometry symposium organised by the GMPCA in 2017 in Rennes and at the TechnArt conference in Bruges, which brings together all the fields of study of cultural heritage: analytical techniques, archaeology, art history, etc.
These conferences are opportunities to exchange with researchers working on more or less related topics. Some study the same objects as me but with different methods, others apply the same methods as us on other objects.

What are your professional projects?

I will return to China on June 26 to work in archaeometry, either for a University or a government institute in my home region. Xi’an, my hometown, is the city where archaeological and archaeometric research is the most developed in China.
Besides, my thesis was funded by the Fondation des sciences du patrimoine, which has associated me since 2016 with the collaboration it was setting up with government institutes in Xi’an. I hope I will contribute to maintaining this bridge between France and China, continue my collaboration with Loïc Bertrand and IPANEMA. Some of my Chinese colleagues, glass specialists, are already interested in our work and would like to apply our methods.