The Marc and Ismene Fitch Laboratory was founded in 1974 through the generosity of Marc and Ismene Fitch and the vision of a former BSA Director, Hector Catling (1971-1989). Its further development owes a great deal to the vital support of C.K. Williams II.
The plan for a small archaeological laboratory at the BSA appears for the first time in the 1972-3 BSA records. Thanks to Hector Catling’s major personal effort, it began operating in May 1974 and it was officially opened by the British Ambassador on 29th November 1974. It was a major achievement for the BSA that became possible through the considerable assistance and goodwill of the British Academy, in undertaking to cover the annual running costs, the continuous support and cooperation of Dr E.T. Hall and the staff of the Oxford University Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Arts (RLAHA) and smaller grants by the Goldsmiths Company of the City of London and the Ernest Cook Trust. Above all, though, the establishment of the laboratory owes most to the generous financial support of Dr Marc and Mrs Ismene Fitch. Throughout their lives, they never ceased caring for and supporting the laboratory which was named after them. The Fitch Laboratory, as it is usually called, added a new dimension to the work of the BSA but also to archaeology in Greece in general. It was the first archaeological science laboratory to be established here (followed soon afterwards by an archaeometry laboratory at the Research Centre for Nuclear Research Demokritos) and one of the few world-wide to be linked to a humanities-focused institution.
Dr Richard Jones was the first Research Officer, subsequently Director, of the Laboratory and took up his appointment after a period of training at the Oxford University RLAHA, then directed by Dr E.T. Hall, who became the first Chairman of the Fitch Laboratory Subcommittee.
The original Laboratory, housed in a large storeroom within the BSA grounds, consisted of a dark room and an instrument room (as in the photo), the latter housing an Optical Emission Spectrometer and an X-ray Fluorescence analytical system. From its inception, the Fitch has conducted research into a wide range of inorganic materials (ceramics, metals, glasses, plasters, etc.), from Neolithic artefacts to modern day comparatives, and has also collaborated with numerous archaeological and scientific institutions, not only in Greece and in the UK but also beyond, including the Nuclear Research Centre (Demokritos, Athens), the Institute of Geology in Athens (IGME), the Greek Archaeological Service, foreign universities and other archaeological schools in Athens.
The Laboratory has been actively involved in research mainly associated with four fields: chemical analysis of inorganic materials, ceramic petrology, environmental archaeology/bioarchaeology and geophysics. Initially, the emphasis was placed on chemical analysis, using the instrumentation mentioned above, and later, by means of Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS) and then Inductively Coupled Plasma Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-AES). By 1979 the Fitch had established the internal Petrology Laboratory, providing the foundation for the integrated analysis of ceramics.
In 1987 an extension was constructed to the original building housing the Laboratory. The official opening took place in April 1988. The extension, on plans drawn up by Nikos Zarganis, consisted of the slight enlargement of the existing Laboratory block and the building of an upper floor. It provided ample space dedicated to the various stages of chemical and petrographic analysis, increased sample storage capacity and office space, and allowed the establishment of an Environmental Archaeology Unit in 1991. Thanks to the continuous financial support of the Fitch family and Mr Charles K. Williams II, the Fitch continued to update its equipment, increased its research staff and expanded its research and training activities to remain current with contemporary trends in science-based archaeology.
The 2009-10 academic year marked the beginning of a new phase in the Fitch’s history, with the establishment of a new Chemical Analysis Unit and extensive building /refurbishment works. A Wavelength Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence (WD-XRF) spectrometer was purchased together with all relevant equipment for sample preparation. Extensive changes were essential to the Laboratory’s premises to meet the requirements of the new analytical technique, which inaugurated an extensive programme of space re-allocation, aimed at more efficient use of the existing space to meet the needs of the Fitch’s expanding activities and the increasing number of researchers making us of its facilities.