X-ray technique peers beneath archaeology's surface

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Striking discoveries in archaeology are being made possible by strong beams of X-rays, say researchers.

A report at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, showed how X-ray sources known as synchrotrons can unravel an artefact's mysteries.

Light given off after an X-ray blast yields a neat list of the atoms within.

The technique can illuminate layers of pigment beneath the surfaces of artefacts, or even show the traces of tools used thousands of years ago.

This X-ray fluorescence or XRF works by measuring the after-effects of X-ray illumination.

Professor Thorne and his collaborators were in 2005 the first to use the technique to analyse inscriptions from Greek and Roman pottery.

The technique has been shown to shed light on layers of glaze beneath the surface of finished pottery.

It has even shown, in the case of an inscription that had worn entirely away, that minuscule amount of iron left by the chisel showed a pristine version of the inscription on what appeared to be smooth stone....

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