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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R024626/1
Title: Non-Destructive High-Resolution X-ray Diffraction for Cultural Heritage
Principal Investigator: Hansford, Dr GM
Other Investigators:
Shortland, Professor A
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Art Analysis & Research Inc. NIST Nat Inst of Standards & Tech (US)
Department: Space Research Centre
Organisation: University of Leicester
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 April 2018 Ends: 31 March 2021 Value (£): 467,165
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Analytical Science Science-Based Archaeology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Environment R&D
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
24 Jan 2018 EPSRC Physical Sciences - January 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Many different analytical techniques are commonly applied in the scientific analysis of heritage objects in order to elucidate their material properties. Each technique has advantages and disadvantages in terms of the type of information returned, complexity and expense, sample preparation requirements and applicability to different types of material objects. While X-ray fluorescence (XRF) is very useful in providing elemental information, and techniques such as Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy can yield phase information, only X-ray diffraction (XRD) allows the definitive and unambiguous identification of crystallographic phases. Despite this, the use of XRD in archaeometry has been relatively sporadic and of utility only in niche areas, largely because of sample preparation requirements. This project aims to bring exciting advances in non-destructive XRD techniques to the archaeometric analysis of cultural heritage and archaeological artefacts. The innovative XRD methods developed by the applicants enable high resolution XRD analysis of objects with no sample preparation requirement at all. While twenty years ago sampling of artefacts was considered standard practice, the growth of non-destructive techniques such as handheld XRF have made curators at museums and other collections very much less willing to allow invasive procedures. Maintaining the physical integrity of heritage artefacts is now considered to be of paramount importance.

There are certain classes of heritage objects for which destructive sampling is currently the only realistic approach to determining provenance. Stone artefacts are a primary example. Many stone objects in Western Museums are from the art market and doubts have been expressed about the authenticity of many. The most effective method of provenancing stone artefacts is the detailed characterisation of the mineralogical composition in order to identify the geological source, but destructive sampling is nearly always currently required for this purpose. A second major application area is the identification of pigments in fine art paintings and on painted objects such as mummy portraits and Indian miniatures. Although Raman spectroscopy can successfully identify a significant proportion of pigments, there remain an important number for which the method is ineffective. Pigments have unique diffraction pattern fingerprints and XRD studies can provide the critical information for essentially all pigments. The study of stone artefacts and of paintings and painted artefacts will form a major focus of the proposed project.

Currently, this innovative XRD technique requires synchrotron facilities for implementation. The applicants will demonstrate the method using cutting-edge high-resolution X-ray detectors (superconducting transition-edge sensor arrays) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US in proof-of-principle experiments. This work will support the eventual transition of the technique away from synchrotrons and into the laboratory and museum. An additional aim is to investigate the archaeometric capability of a prototype handheld XRD instrument, based on the same underlying technique but having much lower resolution. Previous work with this prototype device strongly suggests that the analysis of metallic heritage objects is an especially promising area.

The avoidance of the need to extract samples from high-value and rare objects is a highly-significant advantage and is applicable in other research areas. These include palaeontology and the study of meteorites and planetary materials brought to Earth by sample-return missions.

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Organisation Website: http://www.le.ac.uk