From The Deep
Precious metals from a 17th century shipwreck yield their secrets to XRF and SEM.
Ineke Joosten |
My main expertise lies in the study of archaeological metal and textiles. Currently, I am working together with researchers Janneke van der Stok (Metals, Inc), Tonny Beentjes and Maarten van Bommel (University of Amsterdam) to examine precious metals after excavation (the AMOR project). We selected several historically valuable gilded objects from a 17th century shipwreck, BZN17, which sunk near Texel, the Netherlands. One of the objects, a gilded brass oval powder box with an image of Venus and Cupid (pictured) is of special interest because we believe it may still have its original beeswax coating. In historic collections these type of objects have been polished and cleaned over and over again to make them shine, removing all original coatings. This box, buried for centuries underwater, may still preserve this important information on itsoriginal appearance. Our wider aim is to establish a practical and optimized research and conservation strategy for marine precious metals, to preserve this important surface information. Based on the analytical results, we plan to develop a flowchart and workshops for archaeologists and conservators to aid decision-making after excavation of precious metal.
One of the difficulties in studying these objects is the heterogeneity of the material and the fact that the objects contain layers. For instance, if we want to analyze the composition of the powder box with X-ray fluorescence (XRF), several layers of material obscure the inside, whether intentionally added (such as gilding) or corrosion products. Another problem is that an archaeological object may have been subjected to a conservation treatment that has removed relevant information on manufacture, use and burial conditions.
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