Museum curators, art historians, and archeologists must be constantly alert to forgeries. XRF is a great tool for them since it can identify the specific elemental composition of rare and valuable items without damaging them.
The legacy of the material can be determined as well allowing archeologists to identify trade routes. Since many works of art and artifacts can be quite large and must be kept as intact as possible, very large open beam XRF analyzers are built for this application.
Some of the open beam systems use µXRF optics for small spot analysis. Other more standard form factors of XRF instruments can be used as well when sample size is not a problem.
Here are a few common art applications:
- Paintings-Many paints contain metallic pigments such as cadmium or titanium, and even if they do not they may contain elements like calcium potassium and sulfur that can be used to identify a type of paint that an artist or tribe was known to use.
- Metals- The study of developments in metals and metalworking, particularly metal jewelry, has long been important to archeology. XRF is an ideal instrument for metals analysis, since every element can be identified, and fundamental parameter methods work there best with alloys. Metal alloys and metal making techniques change over time so forgeries and reproductions can often be identified by a detailed compositional analysis.
- Pottery and Ceramics- Ceramics contain elements that are usually indicative of a region, while glazes often contain metal dies that can be measured by XRF.
- Precious Stones- The origin of precious stones can often be identified by their elemental composition. Rubies for example contain traces of vanadium that differ by a hundred PPM or more depending on their source.
- Stone- It is usually possible to identify the quarry or region that stone comes from. Stone used in buildings or larger artwork like sculptures can be readily categorized by XRF. Artifacts made from stone, like flint points, axe heads, and shards can be identified by XRF. This information is useful for identifying trade routes.
- Wood and Plant Derived Material- Wood and other plant material also contains a variety of elements such as sulfur, potassium and calcium that can be used for identification purposes. Items such as canvas, wicker, and fabric can also be analyzed by XRF and at least partially fingerprinted.