Monday, 24 September 2012

Fakes, Forgeries & Forensics

The RSC 2012 Autumn season got off to a great start on September 11 with an interesting and entertaining presentation from Dr. Patrick Degryse from the Centre for Archaeological Sciences at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL).

Entitled 'Fakes, Forgeries & Forensics: Chemistry & Archaeology' Dr. Degryse explained the services and research that his department offer to the world of archaeology to a good audience of members and friends in the cosy atmosphere of Le Chalet Vert in Tervuren.

Much of the work involves isotopic and elemental analysis for provenance studies on items auch as Ancient Egyptian mummies, medieval triptych paintings and (as it turned out) a rather modern reproduction of an Anatolian idol. Dr. Degryse stated that it is very difficult to make an absolute positive statement about the provenance of an article but the work of the department can exclude some sources and narrow down the possibilities.

A specific research focus at KUL is on early glass. One recent PhD student was assigned to collect sand samples from beaches all around the Mediterranean to establish an elemental background reference for determination of the source of ancient glass samples.

Obviously when examining precious ancient objects non-destructive testing is preffered and one technique (X-ray fluorescence - XRF) was demonstrated on a contemporary source! Apparently the UK pound sterling is not as sound as one might hope with perhaps 3% or more of the coinage in circulation being forged. This has led to calls from international monetary authorities for the UK to withdraw and re mint the entire stock. The euro on the other hand is - at least on the forgery front - very sound due to a special alloy involved in its fabrication that makes it very hard to fake.

However, despite the best efforts of Patrick and his colleague RSC Belgium exec member Becki Scott we were unable to find any fake pound coins amongst the 30 odd sample size provided by our audience. The coins were analysed using a portable XRF device which seemed to have been modelled on a Star Trek phazer.

Dr. Patrick Degryse (right), Dr. Becki Scott and RSC Belgium chairman Prof. Bob Crichton are pictured with the 'XRF phazer' above.

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