Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Nondestructive methods for evaluating ancient coins could be worth their weight in gold

Date:
May 28, 2010
Source:
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Summary:
Researchers have demonstrated 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.

Elemental and isotope analysis of the metals in ancient artifacts such as the prutah shown here sometimes can pinpoint the places where the metal was mined. This can be combined with historical sources to determine when the coin was likely struck. Archaeologists can use the evidence to identify or narrow date ranges of historical significance.
Credit: Copyright D. Hendin

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.

Elemental and isotope analysis of the metals in ancient artifacts sometimes can pinpoint the places where the metal was mined, because ores in a given region often have a unique composition. This can be combined with historical records of when mines in the area were operating to determine when the coin was likely struck. The results not only help date the coin, but also offer insight into trade and power relationships in the region.

To compare the effectiveness of various nondestructive analytical methods with destructive methods often used to determine the age and origin of ancient coins, the group studied coins minted by Kings Herod Agrippa I and Agrippa II in what is modern day Palestine and Israel, a biblically and historically significant period.

The vast numbers of a particular coin, a prutah, found in the archaeological record has led scholars to disagree about when they were struck and by whom. The provenance of the coin is important because it is used to establish dates for places and events in the early years of Christianity and the onset of the Jewish War (66-70 CE) against the Romans and the Diaspora that followed.

To better establish whether the coins were minted by Agrippa I (41-45 CE) or Agrippa II (after 61 CE), the team performed X-ray fluorescence and lead isotope analysis to fingerprint the ores used in the production of the coins. These NDE methods are not commonly used on corroded coins because the corrosion can affect the results -- in some cases making it difficult to get a result at all. The team showed that these problems could be overcome using polarizing optics and powerful new software for X-ray fluorescence analysis, combined with careful calibration of the mass spectrometer using Standard Reference Materials from NIST. (NIST's Common Lead Standard Reference Material, SRM 981, and Neodymium Standard Solution, SRM 3135a were used in the study.)

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."

To follow up on their research, the group is planning to perform more tests to determine if the mines in question may have been operating even earlier than their recent findings suggest.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. Epstein, D. Hendin, L. Yu, and N. Bower. Chemical attribution of corroded coins using X-ray fluorescence and lead isotope ratios: A case study from first century Judaea. Applied Spectroscopy, 2010; 64 (4): 384-390 DOI: 10.1366/000370210791114211

Cite This Page:

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). "Nondestructive methods for evaluating ancient coins could be worth their weight in gold." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100527124053.htm>.
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). (2010, May 28). Nondestructive methods for evaluating ancient coins could be worth their weight in gold. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100527124053.htm
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). "Nondestructive methods for evaluating ancient coins could be worth their weight in gold." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100527124053.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

AP (July 29, 2014) Food scraps and other items left on the grounds by picnickers brings unwelcome visitors to the grounds of the world famous and popular Louvre Museum in Paris. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for 650 Mln

London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for 650 Mln

AFP (July 29, 2014) London's "Gherkin" office tower, one of the landmarks on the British capital's skyline, went on sale for about 650 million ($1.1 billion, 820 million euros) on Tuesday after being placed into receivership. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tourists Disappointed to Find Rome Attractions Under Restoration

Tourists Disappointed to Find Rome Attractions Under Restoration

AFP (July 26, 2014) Tourists visiting Italy at the peak of the summer season are disappointed to find some of Rome's most famous attractions being restored and offering limited access. Duration: 01:01 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins