Pioneering investigations and innovative applications within the realm of cultural heritage: prehistoric microbeads analysed at SESAME in Jordan

An innovative non-invasive approach by X-ray computed microtomography using synchrotron radiation was tested in March at SESAME, Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, in Allan, Jordan.

From 11 to 15 March 2024, a research team consisting of Elena Possenti and Gian Luca Bonora (CNR ISPC) in collaboration with Nicoletta Marinoni and Sara Monico (Department of Earth Science “Ardito Desio”, University of Milan), analysed about 50 microbeads manufactured in baked steatite and faience from a third-millennium BC grave, excavated in south Turkmenistan.

The experiments were carried out under the scientific supervision of Gianluca Iori, beamline scientist of BEATS, BEAmline for Tomography at SESAME (H2020 European Project).

The investigation employs synchrotron radiation (SR) X-ray microcomputed tomography (µCT) to examine the manufacturing techniques utilised in the production of rare microbeads crafted from steatite and faience. This study aims to investigate their microstructural features, shedding light on the mechanical processing undertaken both pre- and post-firing to shape and perforate the beads. Moreover, the analysis delves into the microstructural variations induced by the firing process.

“Our experiment is expected to yield significant impact and broad interdisciplinary interest due to its establishment of a novel research line on these important archaeological discoveries. Firstly, it demonstrates the strength of SR-µCT as a viable, completely non-destructive and non-invasive method for scrutinizing minute archaeological artifacts. Secondly, it highlights the high potential of SESAME for pioneering investigations and innovative applications within the realm of cultural heritage. Lastly, it enhances comprehension of the mechanism and patterns of long-range trade and socio-cultural interactions in the prehistory of Middle Asia”.

Highlight Elena Possent and Gian Luca Bonora, researchers at CNR ISPC

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