Nuclear analytical methods in archeology and art

Hungarian-Polish Academic Bilateral Project (2004-2006)

Extensive examinations of works of art by means of traditional methods used by art historians, such as comparisons of their composition, iconography and style, have been enhanced in the 20th century by comprehensive technological studies with use of complementary physical and chemical methods. In the study of archaeological and artistic objects, the determination of the elementary composition can be very useful to locate, date and even authenticate them. Results of this analysis allow for the selection of appropriate conservation treatment, too.

Because of their high sensitivity nuclear methods enable the detailed identification and recognition of the material used in the object under examination. The concentrations of trace elements in an object (so-called "finger print") depend not only on the place where the samples was taken, but also on the technological process used in its production. For this purpose we propose use instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA), prompt gamma activation analysis (PGAA) and X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF).

The procedures that will be worked out during the research can be applied to study the different kinds of historical and artistic objects, although the proposed project will be only concern with historic pigments and glass. The main objective of the study is characterisation and identification of pigments in the 15th century icons from Poland and Ukraine Schools are owned by the Museum Castle in Lancut near Rzeszow and to characterise the glass formulation made by central European factories in the 18th century, on the basis of elemental composition.

Archaeometrical analysis of neolithic pottery and comparison to potential sources of raw materials in their immediate environment

MÖB-DAAD Bilateral Project (2005-2006)

The overall aim of this project is the archaeometrical analysis of Neolithic pottery and comparison to potential sources of raw materials in their immediate environment. Pottery production is one of the most important crafts of prehistoric communities. Most of the archaeological evidences recovered from excavations consist of sherds and different ceramics, found on habitation sites as well as cemeteries. Pottery therefore has served for long as basic starting point of archaeological analysis of a site. Recent archaeometrical research added new dimensions to the study of archaeological pottery by focusing on material as well as form of vessels.

So far, we are on the level of basic research: describing petrographical characteristics, technological types, assessing firing temperatures and making efforts for regional fingerprinting of pottery on the basis of its material.

Material characteristics of the ceramics may depend on many complex factors: technological, regional, cultural and functional factors. Our proposed project intends to deal mainly with regional factors comparing local sediments with the material of early ceramics all over Hungary. Hungary is known to serve as a secondary centre for Neolithisation in Europe, forwarding ideas and perhaps also immigrants from the Southern parts of Europe, bringing along, apart from the knowledge of making ceramics, notions on food production, agriculture, animal husbandry and permanent settlements. These notions were quickly adopted and forwarded towards the west and the north.

Considerable pioneering work has been done by members of the research group already. The present proposal could facilitate the exchange of ideas and ensure homogeneity of analyses by the help of which we could make better founded statements concerning the provenance and technology of early pottery.

The official website of the project is MÖB-DAAD .

Archaeometry research of lithic raw materials for early neolithic prehistoric communities with the help of PGAA, with special regard to radiolarites and obsidian

Hungarian-Croatian Collaboration (2007-2009)

Radiolarites and obsidian are elements of key importance in the lithic supply of the Carpathian Basin. Obsidian has always been a key element of prehistoric material culture and a favourite subject of archaeometrical studies, i.e., the application of natural scientific methods for objects of cultural heritage. In the earliest phase of the Neolithic, both obsidian and radiolarite are an important marker of the movements of goods as well as peoples that has key role in tracing the Neolithisation process.

The last decades of research showed the importance of lithic raw materials, especially radiolarites, in tracing these movements in Transdanubia. Our first impressions on Early Neolithic lithic industries in Croatia show that:
  • there is essential local supply of various radiolarites
  • there is considerable (supposed) import from the territory of Hungary
  • it is imperative to find border zones (in the sense of supply) and find, if any, objective discrimination features to define these supply zones
The source regions are known in Hungary but unknown in Croatia. It needs essential fieldwork to locate them. Archaeological distribution mapping is quite advanced in Hungary; should be followed by similar elaboration in Croatia.

PGAA – a non-destructive nuclear analytical method – has been successfully applied for characterization of chipped stone archaeological objects and their raw materials, especially of radiolarite and obsidian. The method can be effective in distinction between objects of different provenance.

However, the geochemical investigations of Hungarian radiolarites is in the beginning phase, it is necessary to perform more analyses and additional fieldwork, both in Croatia and Hungary. In this project, we would like to extend the research to the region of Croatia. Micropalaeontological research should be performed in both countries.

As for obsidian, the state of research is more advanced. At the Institute of Isotopes (IKI), with PGAA, we have determined the characteristic chemical elements for fingerprinting the main sources and we have build an adequate database of compositions, including archaeological pieces from the Carpathians, Romania and geological references from the Mediterranean.