Artefact analysis

Scientists at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s ISIS neutron source in Oxfordshire are to investigate the origins of Roman artefacts found in the UK.

A number of bronze artefacts, including a wine-mixing vessel, jugs and ceremonial pan-shaped objects, were discovered in Kent in two high-status Roman pit burials and bear striking similarities to similar findings in Pompeii.

The neutron beams at ISIS allow for detailed crystal structure analysis of intact delicate objects without cutting out a sample of the material. This could help the researchers discover whether the 1st Century AD artefacts were imported from southern Italy or manufactured using similar techniques in Britain.

Dr Andrew Taylor, ISIS director, said: ‘For these rare and highly valued objects, analysis with neutrons can give fantastic insight. Neutrons are a very powerful way to look at matter at the molecular level and they give unique results that you can’t easily get with any other technique. The measurements are extremely delicate and non-destructive, so the objects are unharmed by the analysis and can be returned to the museums unscathed.

‘The neutron beams we have at ISIS are a very versatile research tool and we’re always keen to help researchers answer a broad range of questions. Here we realised that we could take the same analysis methods we developed to look at parts of aircraft and powerplants and use them to help archaeologists understand how ancient objects were traded and manufactured,’ he added.