Micro-CT Examination of Ceramic Pottery

Examining the internal structure of archaeological artifacts can provide unique insights that can help us understand the people who made them, their culture, and the technology they developed to shape the world around them. Archaeometry, or the application of scientific techniques to the analysis of archaeological artifacts, is transforming modern archaeology and helping improve our understanding of the past. Micro-CT provides three-dimensional information for non-destructive ceramic studies and is a key method used to analyze pottery to determine more about its composition, the production methods used to create it, and its provenance (origin). With these techniques, scientific archaeologists can acquire more accurate vessel profiles and data, especially of closed shapes. Micro-CT scanning can also be useful for restoration and conservation projects, as well as for documentation from archaeological dig sites by the digitization of shards.

This month we highlight our SkyScan 1273 high-energy desktop micro-CT on a modern ceramic piece as an example of how we can apply non-destructive micro-CT imaging to archaeological ceramics.

Micro-CT Scan of a Ceramic Pig

Our 3D micro-CT examination of a ceramic pig allows us to non-destructively examine the internal structure of the piece.  As can be seen in Figure 2 below, this modern pottery object was probably inexpensively made in a slip-cast mold, in which liquefied clay is poured into a simple plaster mold.

Figure 2: Cross-section of ceramic pig revealing internal structure.

As can be seen below in Figure 3, a cross-section of a part of the object provides an opportunity to measure the thickness of the wall of the piece at different points. Such metrics can be used by researchers to study craft specialization and modes of production, as well as the technological choices made in production.

Figure 3: This two-dimensional cross-section reveals the variations in wall thickness resulting from the original slip-casting mold.

Because ceramics are quite indestructible once made, compared to wood and other materials that decay, they are found in quantity at most archaeological sites, which is why studying ceramics has always been central to the archaeological interpretation of a site, region, and period. Figure 4 provides an opportunity to examine the porosity of the clay used to make the piece, which can be a clue to provenance of the piece.

Figure 4: These cross sections provide an opportunity to study the porosity of the clay used to make the ceramic object.


Micro-CT is increasingly popular for non-destructive examination of valuable and fragile archaeological ceramic objects for the study of their production, provenance, and use. The new SkyScan 1273, Bruker’s latest bench-top 3D X-ray micro-CT scanner, was ideal for this project as it allows examination of a wide range of objects with excellent image quality in just a few seconds.

We hope you found this Image of the Month informative. If you have an Image of the Month sample that you would like us to scan, please contact us by calling Seth Hogg at 610-366-7103 or emailing seth.hogg@microphotonics.com.


Scan Specifications


Ceramic Pig

Voltage (kV)


Current (µA)


Pixel Size (µm)


Rotation Step

Field of View




This scan was completed on our SkyScan 1273 high-energy desktop micro-CT system at the Micro Photonics Imaging Laboratory in Allentown, PA. 


Micro Photonics Inc. provides instruments, laboratory services, training, and support from micro-CT experts
to help research scientists meet their most complex laboratory demands.

More information: FREE BUYERS’ GUIDE

Request: FREE EVALUATION SCAN to see how micro-CT works with your application.

Contact: Benjamin Ache, Product Manager, Bruker Micro-CTs P: 610-366-7103 ext 115.

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