Scientific Analysis

From analysis to the interpretation of results, scientific investigations provide objective data. Such services are useful to curators, conservators, collectors, and art historians who seek information that may help to date or authenticate a work of art. They may also help to determine the techniques and the materials used at particular periods of time.

Scientific analysis is essential to the understanding of the physical composition of an object, the extent of its deterioration and in choosing appropriate conservation methods.


Optical microscopy

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Examination of an object under the microscope can determine an object's condition and the techniques and materials used.


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Examination of metallographic sections and the examination of corrosion within the crystal structure of metal is frequently used to determine the method of manufacture. It is used to confirm authenticity by assessing the presence of intergranular corrosion or alternatively to identify the presence of false layers of corrosion.


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Pigment identification


Pigment analysis is required prior to the conservation or restoration of an object, and can also be useful in its dating or authentication. Many historical pigments have known dates of use and pigments have changed over time. If a pigment manufactured after 1800 is present on an object of a supposedly earlier date, then the object is not of this date or has been restored.





Petrographic examination of stone samples


The characteristics of natural weathering can be relevant to conservation procedures on building materials and their presence or absence can assist in questions of authenticity. Prepared thin sections are examined using reflected light microscopy to ascertain the mineral structure and progression of surface alteration layers into the stone.


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Scanning electron microscopy (SEM)


In SEM work the image of an object is formed using a beam of electrons rather than visible light. The SEM can magnify objects 100,000 times or more and produce detailed three-dimensional images.


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This method is used to determine the internal structure of the object at a macroscopic level. The positions of ancient or modern repairs become obvious and pastiche objects can be identified.


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Elemental analyses and mineral phase determination of extremely small samples of metal, stone, ceramic, glass, and pigments.


Such analyses can be used to characterize the compositions of ancient bronze, silver and gold objects, determine the compositions of ancient patina, and identify pigments. These determinations may be important when ascertaining the age or provenance of an object.



X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (XRF)


Electron probe microanalyzer (EPMA)




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Induction Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICPMS)




X-ray diffractometry (XRD)






Carbon 14 dating


An absolute dating method used for organic material, wood, ivory, lacquer and core material from the casting of metal objects where this contains organics. Radiocarbon WEB-info:


The turnaround time fluctuates with demand, but radiometric dating averages 7 weeks. Sampling of organic material for carbon 14 dating in conjunction with the IsoTrace Laboratory, at the University of Toronto, Canada and the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, at the University of Waikato, New Zealand.



Thermoluminescence dating


An absolute dating technique used for ceramics and the residual traces of core material from the casting of metal objects. Sampling of fired material for TL dating in conjunction with Oxford Authentication.

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