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NanoArchaeology

November 25, 2014

Modern technology reveals ancient techniques used in the production of purloined antiquities.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

A 17 cm carved stone figurine shown inside the SEM chamber ready for non-destructive imaging and analysis TRose Smithsonian

A 17 cm carved stone figurine shown inside the SEM chamber ready for non-destructive imaging and analysis (Timothy Rose/Smithsonian)

CSI: Ancient Artifacts. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When federal agents seized stone masks, figurines and pottery smuggled from Mexico last year, the alleged smuggler told them they were fakes—worthless souvenir reproductions. The agents brought them to Smithsonian anthropologist Jane Walsh and her colleague, geologist Timothy Rose, who examined the objects with a scanning electron microscope.

TIMOTHY ROSE (Smithsonian Institution Analytical Laboratories):

There are some in there that are clearly modern reproductions. But on the other hand there are objects like this beautiful handled ceramic pot which has a level of craftsmanship that is well beyond what a modern reproducer of this kind of material would ever do.

HIRSHON:

In fact, most of the objects were priceless antiquities from the Olmec and Teotihuacan cultures, and their analysis led to new discoveries about how the ancient artisans crafted their work. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.