Cultural Heritage


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Over the last decades, neutron, photon, and ion beams have been established as an innovative and attractive investigative approach to characterise cultural-heritage materials. Nuclear methods provide a powerful and versatile way to look at the structure and dynamics of materials at the atomic level, providing complementary information. This makes them superb probes to use in tandem with traditional methods to extract maximum information from an object without the need for sampling or invasive procedures.
In Australia and the Southeast Asia basin, the ANSTO facility offers a wide range of unique nuclear-beam techniques for cultural heritage research. The suite of world-class neutron-beam instruments operated by the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering, the availability of neutron activation analysis at the OPAL research reactor, the new extension of the ANTARES accelerator, the recently assumed responsibility for operation of the Australian Synchrotron, along with state-of-the-art laboratories, offices, and computing facilities constitute an invaluable and powerful research platform.
The Cultural Heritage project has been started at ANSTO in order to interface and synergize the suite of appropriate internal technical and analytical-support capabilities available across site in touch with the needs of the Cultural Heritage community.
Research focus will be on several aspects of cultural-heritage materials and conservation science ranging from characterization of a reference library of pigments, evolution of ancient metallurgical technology, to degradation processes in tropical environment.
Moreover, a protocol for safe transport, access and storage will be set-up and coordinated within the ANSTO capability platforms. The permanence of objects to be under analysis will be reduced and optimized on site while the fragmented and one-off analyses that most museums and galleries access will be improved, thus benefiting and facilitating collaboration with the cultural-heritage community.


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  • Material characterization
    One of the focuses of the research theme will join several nuclear techniques to fully characterize the material composing cultural heritage objects. For example, neutron autoradiography, activation analysis and PIXE will be combined in order to create a pigments and binding material reference library.
  • Manufacturing techniques
    The evolution and the reconstruction of ancient manufacturing process of metal objects will be revealed.
  • Provenance and authenticity
    Ding, geographical provenance, cycle life, past restorations of ancient artefacts will be clarified.
  • State of conservation and degradation processes
    Study of the effect of the tropical environment on organic and inorganic materials of cultural interest (i.e. rock art and paper) and evaluation or museum and art gallery microclimate.
  • New conservation methods and products: development and evaluation
    Conservation techniques will be validated and improved, while new methods will be developed and tested.


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Conventional methods (Institute of Material Engineering)

  • X-ray Diffraction
  • Scanning Electron Microscopes

Neutron Instruments and methods (The Bragg Institute)

  • Neutron imaging (DINGO)
  • Neutron stress and texture analysis (KOWARI)
  • Neutron diffraction (ECHIDNA)
  • Small-angle neutron scattering(QUOKKA, BILBY)
  • Ultra small angle neutron scattering (KOOKABURRA)
  • Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA)

X-ray Instruments


Synchrotron instruments

  • Imaging (IMBL)
  • X-ray fluorescence microscopy (XFM)
  • IR Microscopy and Spectroscopy (IR)

Centre for Accelerator Science (CAS)

  • Ion Beam Analyses (IBA)
  • Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS)

Sample Environment (SE)



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Current research 


  • Ancient Greek coins
  • Chinese bronzes
  • Cypriot bronzes
  • Japanese swords
  • Greco-Roman mummies
  • Autoradiography


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Project members 


Project coordinators




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Contact and Access 


For further information about the project and how our methods can assist Cultural Heritage research, contact: