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Monday, August 23, 2010

Non-destructive artifact analysis

Archeologists not only dig up artifacts, but also try to determine as much as possible about what they are, when and how they were made, who used them, and anything else they can find out. Unfortunately, the process of answering many of these questions has required destroying small chips of the material. The fragments are subjected to various types of analysis to determine exact composition. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University may have changed all that.

Goren uses x-ray fluorescence (XRF) to analyze the chemical composition of artifacts such as clay tablets, coins, or glass without damaging them. By comparing his data with data collected over the years from more destructive sampling, he has compiled a table of times and locations of manufacture. For example, Goren was recently able to determine the origin and possibly the sender of a 3500 year-old letter.

The XRF device can be used either in the lab or in the field. As fewer and fewer museums are allowing traditional, destructive analysis of items in their collections, Goren predicts that his method is going to be in great demand. He intends to make it available to anyone who wishes to use it.

Prof. Yuval Goren demonstrates the portable x-ray device on an ancient tablet.

Credit: Image courtesy of American Friends of Tel Aviv University.

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