Analysis of frankincense in archaeological samples by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry

Ann Chim. 2007 Jul;97(7):433-45. doi: 10.1002/adic.200790029.


Four archaeological samples, unearthed from Qana in Yemen were analysed by analytical technique, currently applied in the field of petroleum geochemistry, and by gas chromatography coupled with a mass spectrometer (GC-MS). Sample no 1286 comes from a burned warehouse and samples no 964, 963 and 962 from the central sanctuary. These specimens were probably exposed to a heating source. In each case olibanum resin was identified according to the presence of their chemical markers corresponding to alpha- , beta-boswellic and lupeolic acids (3alpha-hydroxy-olean-12-en-24-oic, 3alpha-hydroxy-urs-12-en-24-oic and 3alpha-hydroxy-lup-20(29)en-24-oic acids) and their respective O-acetyled derivatives (3alpha- O-acetyl-olean-12-en-24-oic, 3alpha-O-acetyl-urs-12-en-24-oic and 3-O-acetyl-lup-20(29)-en-24-oic acids). Concerning the thermal degradation state of samples, the GC-MS results are in agreement with the geochemical ones. Sample no 1286 and 964 correspond to ageing incense which has not undergone any heating action and are consequently relatively well preserved. Lastly, samples no 963 and 962 are thermally degraded resins and their gross composition data permits to conclude that sample no 963 is only partially burnt while sample no 962 has been much more degraded.

MeSH terms

  • Archaeology*
  • Boswellia / chemistry*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods*