Companies are dedicating large amounts of effort to space mining projects to help find the future supply of strategic and precious metals for use on Earth. However, there are some organizations who are trying to discover the past by analyzing historic stones that have been a mystery here on earth for many years.
Archaeometry, the collection of quantitative data from archaeological samples, is one of the most trusted methods in archaeological study. And X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers are a useful tool for nondestructive analysis of art and artifacts in a variety of research applications, including archaeological site surveys, site mapping for excavation, conservation, or establishing provenance.
It’s not the first time that X-ray fluorescence technology has been used to analyze artifacts. A variety of art and artifacts have been authenticated over the years utilizing portable XRF instruments. The Smithsonian Institution has used handheld XRF instruments to analyze artifacts being repatriated to Native American Tribes in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The Bureau of Land Management and the Utah Geological Survey have evaluated XRF analyzers for providing the elemental analysis needed to glean important clues to the age of petroglyphs, alloys, and other materials.
The latest news of analysis in archaeology involves Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument of massive stones located in southern England. A handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer enabled the university archaeological team to make a rapid preliminary characterization of variability amongst stone working debris associated with the erection of Stonehenge. This took place in-situ as the excavation progressed, meaning that results could be evaluated as decisions were made. Chemical data does not normally inform excavation strategy since waiting times for results from conventional laboratory-based analyses can take months.
The team undertook a survey of a Bronze Age landscape and surveyed heavy metals over one hectare at 2m resolution in three days using only three people. Previously such work had taken three people over a week just to collect samples and then months in the laboratory processing them.
The instrument used by the team offered light element analysis, which is important to measuring elements such as phosphorus and silicon. The in-situ analysis of phosphorus is particularly powerful as this is an element which is often a direct indicator of human activity. Such capabilities mean that the instrument will be increasingly used in mainstream archaeology.
With the handheld XRF tools currently available, archeologists can quickly obtain geochemical data, use trend analysis of the elemental composition of the soil, and perform in-situ soil testing at suspected historic sites – all of which can help identify areas such as buried architectural features, hearth areas, fire pits, and burial grounds. And with the latest news about Stonehenge, the technology may even be able to unlock the secrets of history.