Physicists have created a versatile x-ray «scanner» ancient artifacts

© Illustration RIA Novosti . Alina Planinata the artist presented himself as an x-ray helps scientists to learn how to look Roman coinsPhysicists have created a versatile x-ray «scanner» ancient artifacts© Illustration RIA Novosti . Alina Polyanina

British chemists and physicists have developed a new technique of x-ray scanning of ancient artifacts, which allows to determine the chemical composition and origin of finds of all shapes and sizes, according to an article published in the journal Acta Crystallographica.

«The study of the chemical composition of artifacts often gives us new information about their history and origin. For example, the study of pigments in ancient paintings can help us to understand how ancient people made these colors, how organized their production and when they were created. This, in turn, allows you to understand where was the picture that was painted and if it is real,» says Graham Hansford (Graeme Hansford) from the University of Leicester (UK).

In recent years, archaeologists, culturologists, and many other representatives of historical Sciences started to apply techniques from the world of physics and chemistry to unlock the mysteries of ancient history and find its not yet open pages. For example, Egyptologists now use the detectors to cosmic rays to search for secret rooms in the pyramids, and mass spectrometers and chromatographs – to explore the mysteries of embalming mummies, and historians have used x-rays to read the sealed papyrus of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Especially widely such techniques are applied in the study of the history of art. Today, scientists and art historians use x-ray emitters for searches of hidden portraits in the paintings of the great masters of the 17th-19th centuries, and data on the chemical composition of their paints have solved the mystery of why some impressionist paintings such as van Gogh paintings faded over the last century, and others remained bright.

Many such studies, as explained by Hansford require sacrifice. For example, the chemical composition of ancient Egyptian embalming fluids can only learn if you burn a piece of cloth burial shroud of a mummy and to analyze the composition of the resulting vapor with x-rays. Similarly, analysis of the composition of paints and paintings require scraping them from the plate.

To such extremes, scientists have to go for the reason that all of the current methods of x-ray analysis of the samples cannot be used to study uneven or just thick layers of matter. Hansford and his colleagues managed to solve the problem by creating a new type of x-ray «scanner», for which the shape of the sample does not affect.

The operation of this device requires only two things – source of soft x-ray whose wavelength will not pass through the sample and is reflected from its surface, and a supercomputer able to calculate the reflected x-rays from the surface of paintings, coins, earthenware vessels, or any other artifact.

These calculations, as explained by physics, is needed in order to remove noise and parasitic signals caused by irregularities of the surface, and to separate the real data on the chemical composition of artifacts from false echo.

The main advantage of this approach is that it allows to study any archeological or geological finds, right after discovering them, just putting them into the «scanner.» It is, as scientists believe, will make them approach popular among archaeologists and mineralogists, conducting excavations in the field.

To demonstrate the efficiency of this x-ray scanner Hansford and his colleagues used it to study the chemical composition of multiple bronze Roman coins, fossils of shark teeth and shells of prehistoric molluscs, fragment glass mosaic of the ancient Greek cities of Asia Minor and of a piece of cement in the late middle Ages.

The possibility to apply x-ray analysis applied to virtually all fossil finds, without damaging or destroying them, according to Hansford and his colleagues, has enriched the Arsenal of archaeologists, geologists and paleontologists, and will help to reveal many things that previously could not be read because of the invaluable nature of the study of their art and fossils.