X-rays and archaeology

I was very interested to read how X-ray technology is helping archaeologists research artifacts without having to dismantle (and possibly damage) them.  I’ve heard of Egyptian mummies being X-rayed, but it seems the process can now be applied to much smaller and more complex objects.  The Guardian reports:

Scientists have used a new x-ray technique to produce spectacular 3D images of Roman coins that were corroded inside pots or blocks of soil.

The rotating images built up from thousands of two-dimensional scans are so clear that individual coins can be identified and dated, without a single battered denarius – the Roman currency – being visible to the naked eye. The advantage of the new method – developed by a unique collaboration between archaeologists and scientists at the British Museum and Southampton University – is that it means coins can be identified and even dated much more quickly and without risking damage to them.

Roger Bland, a coins expert who is also head of the Portable Antiquities and Treasure schemes for reporting archaeological finds, based at the British Museum, said: “The initial results are very encouraging and in some cases remarkable. The techniques could have profound implications for the way we assess and study finds in the future, producing results in a few hours that would take a conservator weeks or even months.”

Bland astonished the team at Southampton by sitting down with a sheaf of printouts and then identifying and dating each individual coin, including silver denarii from the reigns of Marcus Aurelius, Vespasian, Trajan and Hadrian, which were all still clumped together in a pottery cup, one of two found by an amateur with a metal detector in a field near Selby, Yorkshire.

. . .

Unlike conventional excavation, the technique avoids the risk of damage to corroding metal. As the method evolves it should be possible to fully study some objects without ever exposing them to daylight.

The x-ray technology at Southampton was originally developed to scan Rolls Royce turbine blades for flaws.

There’s more at the link.  Here’s a video clip showing how the imagery is refined.

Color me impressed!


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