Neutron imaging revealed the secrets and techniques of this gold-plated medieval pendant

Scientists used neutron tomography to peer inside a medieval pendant, revealing five reliquary packages.

Enlarge / Scientists used neutron tomography to look inside a medieval pendant, revealing 5 reliquary packages. (credit score: Sabine Steidl, RGZM/Burkhard Schillinger, MLZ)

In 2008, archaeologists excavating a medieval refuse pit in Mainz, Germany, found a closely corroded pendant possible made within the late 12th century. However they had been loath to open the pendant to search out out what could be inside, lest they injury an already fragile artifact. Now know-how has come to the rescue. Researchers from the Technical College of Munich scanned the pendant utilizing neutron tomography, amongst different strategies, and found it contained bone splinters—possible non secular relics, i.e., the purported bones of saints. The findings had been revealed within the interim assembly of the Worldwide Council of Museums-Committee for Conservation (ICOM-CC) Metals Working Group.

Neutron tomography, works a lot the identical manner as X-ray and gamma ray imaging strategies, besides it makes use of a neutron beam. One shoots a beam of radiation on the goal object, and a few elements work together with the pattern whereas others go by means of. The latter collides with an imaging goal to create what’s generally known as an attenuation sample—primarily a picture of the inside of the pattern. Neutron tomography will not be as delicate to the density of supplies as X-ray and gamma ray imaging, and in contrast to these strategies, neutrons work together strongly with very gentle components like hydrogen. So some issues simply seen with neutron imaging could also be difficult or unimaginable to see with X-ray imaging (and vice versa).

The strategies might be complementary and are particularly helpful for imaging archaeological or paleontological artifacts as a result of they do not injury or destroy the unique object. As an illustration, in December 2021, researchers mixed X-ray microtomography—which entails utilizing X-rays to make cross-sections of a bodily object—and neutron tomography to create a extremely detailed 3D mannequin of a 365-million-year-old ammonite fossil from the Jurassic interval, revealing inner muscle mass which have by no means been beforehand noticed. Amongst different findings, they noticed paired muscle mass extending from the ammonite’s physique, which they surmise the animal possible used to retract itself additional into its shell to keep away from predators.

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