Thursday, May 27, 2010

Non-destructive analysis of Judean coins

NDE Methods for Evaluating Ancient Coins Could be Worth Their Weight in Gold

Demonstrating that chemistry sometimes can inform history, researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Colorado College and Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., have shown that sensitive nondestructive evaluation (NDE) techniques can be used to determine the elemental composition of ancient coins, even coins that generally have been considered too corroded for such methods*. Along the way, the researchers’ analysis of coins minted in ancient Judea has raised new questions about who ruled the area while giving insight into trading patterns and industry in the region.


The lead isotope analysis, performed at NIST, showed that the coins that had been attributed to Agrippa I were indeed from that era. More interestingly, however, the group found that the copper from which the coins were made most likely came from mines that scholars thought hadn’t been opened until a century later.

“All the archaeological evidence has thus far suggested that the Romans had moved into Arabia in the 2nd century CE,” says Nathan Bower of Colorado College. “What this analysis shows is that the Romans may have reached the region earlier or found that these mines had already been opened. Either way, our findings suggest that the Romans had a much closer relationship with this particular region than scholars had previously thought.”

As I've said before, any number of times (e.g., here and here, cf. here), non-invasive and non-destructive analysis is the long-term future for archaeology.