WMD and Antiquities?

Archaeology has an interesting but brief interview with Matthias Rossbach who has led a project which uses Nuclear Analytical Techniques to measure elemental composition of ceramic, stone and metal to learn more about the age and provenance of objects. Here is an excerpt:

The IAEA is best known for combating the illegal trade of nuclear materials—how did you get involved with archaeology?
When I joined the agency, there was a project in Latin America that used NATs for so-called pottery fingerprinting to determine provenance by studying the elemental composition of the clay from which the pottery was produced. This was restricted to Latin America, though, and I was looking for opportunities to enhance the application of NATs in all our member states. So, through this program, museums and excavators work with government labs to learn more about the age and provenance of their materials, and even learn whether their objects are fakes.

What makes NATs good tools for authenticating artifacts?
If you analyze the element content, you can easily determine what is authentic because the production procedures and materials differ between today and, let’s say, a thousand years ago. So the composition of the products is different and NATs are virtually nondestructive.

Interesting stuff. I wonder what the cost is for such an analysis, and whether this kind of study might be used for some high-profile antiquities where the original findspot or place of creation is unknown. I’m thinking primarily of the Sevso hoard and the Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth currently in the Getty. It will be a long time before such technology can be used to actually determine provenance I think.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

1 thought on “WMD and Antiquities?”

  1. Nuclear analysis techniques, particularly instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA), have been in use by museums and archaeologists for over thirty years now. They can definitely be used to determine provenance if one knows the general region that an object came from and there is a good database. Some materials are more variable in chemistry than others, but these techniques measure elements (lanthanides, actinides, etc… ) which are not measure by any other techniques.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *