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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. ANSTO offers a wide range of unique nuclear-beam techniques to look at the structure and dynamics of materials from the atomic to the macroscopic scale providing complementary information. These powerful and versatile tools are superb probes to be used in tandem with traditional methods to extract maximum information from an object without the need for sampling or invasive procedures.
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Current major research themes
Natural mineral pigments are significant in Aboriginal Australian culture, and applied to a variety of natural matrices. Prof. Rachel Popelka-Filcoff at Flinders University is using ANSTO capabilities to develop a non-destructive approach to characterize Indigenous Australian ochre pigments. A combination of neutron activation analysis (NAA), X-ray fluorescence microscopy and near-IR spectroscopy can be used to “geochemically fingerprint” natural material pigments to gain an insight into their complex mineralogy and elemental composition, and to trace their provenance. Read more
Archaeometallurgy in the Near East
This is an ongoing archaeometric investigation that aims to understand the ancient manufacturing methods adopted in the production of iron artefacts from Saruq al-Hadid, an early Iron Age site located in the desert region of Dubai. Despite the site’s remote location from all known regional ore deposits, the site features abundant metallurgical residues from copper, gold and iron-making metallurgical operations. The team led by Prof. Lloyd Weeks at the University of New England is characterizing iron artefacts from Saruq al-Hadid by using a combination of standard analytical methods and neutron techniques at ANSTO to obtain infomation on the origins, spread and adoption of ferrous metallurgy in Arabia and the Near East more widely.
Arms and Armour
This research theme is devoted to the non-invasive investigation of ancient technology evolved by different cultures for the production of weapons during centuries. We are currently studying a set of Samurai’s swords, part of the East Asian Collection of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) in Sydney, with the aim to non-destructively characterize their laminated structure through a synergic combination of neutron tomography, diffraction and residual stress analyses. Analysis and comparison of all collected results allows drawing conclusion about variability or similarity of the actual production techniques of the Japanese swords. Read more
Bronze Age artefacts
The focus is on Cypriot Bronze Age knife and other weapon blades from a corpus of artefacts held by a number of institutions in Australia. A number of the blades were found on excavation to be bent from Early/Middle Bronze Age burial sites at Bellapais Vounous, Cyprus. The aim of the study is to provide, by means of non-destructive neutron residual stress analysis, likely insights into fabrication methodologies of the knives and determine the stage in the life of each knife blade at which bending occurred. Read more
Neutron and X-ray computed tomography have being used for the forensic analysis of Egyptian mummies from the collection of the Australian Institute of Archaeology. This study aims to determine the condition of death, understand the mechanical aspects of ancient medical practice and investigate the processes involved in the mummification process. Read more
Rock art dating with nuclear techniques
A new technique, developed at ANSTO’s Centre for Accelerator Science, has made it possible to produce some of the first reliable radiocarbon dates for Australian rock art. The approach involves extracting calcium oxalate from a mineral crust growing on the surface of rock art. It has been recently applied for dating samples from the sites in western Arnhem Land. Read more
In collaboration with the Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatic Studies (ACANS) at Macquarie University in Sydney (AU), we are conducting an investigation on incuse silver coins. Incuse refers to a particular type of coinage that was developed by Greek colonies in South Italy during the 6th and 5th centuries B.C.. A synergic combination of different neutron techniques has applied to shed new light on the minting method evolved by ancient cities of Magna Graecia through a non-invasive characterization of macro and microscopic features imprinted by the metallurgical process. Read more
In partnership with several Australian museums and art galleries, ANSTO is contributing to the study of artists’ materials and methods, assisting art restorers, and providing new evidence in cases where the identity of an artist is unclear. Infrared microspectroscopy, X-ray fluorescence microscopy and neutron autoradiography can be exploited to characterize pigments, map hidden layers of paintings, determine the state of conservation and understand the mechanism of alteration of materials. Read more