Archaeologists’ tricorder reveals objects’ ancient origins

By | September 13, 2013

Archaeologists' tricorder reveals objects' ancient origins

Tricorder-style handheld scanners could help archaeologists uncover historical secrets without having to wait months for laboratory results.

Researchers from Sheffield University have adapted technology used to identify materials in scrap metal yards and docks, in order to determine the geographical origin of certain stone tools in just 10 seconds.

The portable scanner uses X-rays to analyse the chemical composition of ancient tools made from obsidian volcanic glass and identify where they came from, which could help archaeologists study the migration of groups of early humans.

Dr Ellery Frahm, who led development of the technique, said the scanner would enable archaeologists to make judgements about a dig site as artefacts were uncovered but also overcome the difficult of taking discoveries out of a country for lab-based analysis.

“Even though the analytical techniques are better than ever, it’s getting harder and harder to do these things in any meaningful way,” he told The Engineer.

“If you are dependent on lab-based chemical analysis you’re doomed to have an inconsequential number of articles available. You’ll have to make judgements based on the worst dozen artefacts that a country is willing to let go.”

The device uses a technique called X-ray fluorescence, whereby a material is bombarded with X-rays and subsequently emits photons with a specific energy signature depending the chemical composition of the substance. …

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