Archaeology—The Subatomic Dig

How a particle accelerator in France has revolutionized artifact analysis.

Some of the greatest discoveries in the future of archaeology may lie within the molecules of excavated artifacts. Thanks to the extremely powerful X-ray beams produced by a type of particle accelerator called a synchrotron, scientists can now look within artifacts at an unprecedented degree of detail. A synchrotron beam, for example, has identified the ingredients in the brilliant blue pigment with which the Maya painted their elaborate murals. Other analyses identified the earliest evidence of oil paint in murals dating to the mid-seventh-century A.D. in caves near the ruins of Afghanistan’s giant Bamiyan Buddha statues (both stories were featured in “Top 10 Discoveries of 2008,” January/February 2009). Read more…

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