Over the past 50 years, many museums around the world have used nuclear techniques to help preserve some of the world’s most important historical and cultural artefacts. From the famous Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II to paintings by 14th-century Venetian masters, radiation technology plays a role in maintaining and characterizing cultural heritage.
To celebrate this jubilee, the IAEA, in collaboration with the French ARC-Nucléaire, organized in Grenoble a workshop and a meeting of experts on radiation technologies for the preservation of cultural heritage. With more than 100 participants from Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the experts exchanged ideas and reflected on the invaluable artefacts that nuclear techniques have helped preserve and study, characterizing the age and history of important objects.
“Before the use of nuclear techniques in conservation and preservation, heritage objects often degraded due to biological attack, or corroded and dried out over time, losing some of their cultural value,” said Laurent Cortella, facility management manager and research engineer at ARC-Nucléaire. “Over the past half century, this problem has been alleviated through the use of gamma irradiation for the conservation of archaeological, historical and ethnographic cultural objects. We must continue to understand how materials have degraded and develop new processing techniques so that museums around the world can display priceless works of art. “
Wooden objects, for example, are often exposed to infestations of insects, fungi and algae, putting them at risk of structural weakness and degradation. The famous early 18th-century statue of Saint Maurice, the Egyptian military leader who led the legendary Theban Legion of Rome in the 3rd century, for example, faced significant structural weakening. ARC-Nucleart restoration experts exposed the statue to gamma radiation to disinfect and consolidate it and help restore it to its original structure.
Using computed tomography (CT) scans, experts were able to uncover details about the baby mammoth, revealing Khroma to be female and identifying how her bone structure was different from that of other mammoths. It can help historians explain how mammoths came to live. Nuclear science preserving and conserving artefacts The IAEA has three ongoing regional technical cooperation projects covering Asia and the Pacific, Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean. A research project coordinated by the IAEA has supported the conservation of cultural heritage through the application of nuclear analysis techniques, such as ion beams, X-rays and neutrons for imaging 2D artefacts and 3D; isotope analysis for dating objects; and radiation for the preservation of objects of historical or cultural importance. With the expertise and collaboration of ARC-Nucleart, IAEA projects have assisted experts in Brazil, Mexico and Romania to conserve and characterize their own cultural heritage objects.
In September of this year, the IAEA designated its first two collaborating centers in the field of cultural heritage: the French University Paris-Saclay and the National Center for Radiation Research and Technology of the Egyptian Energy Authority. atomic (NCRRT).
Following the success of the 2017 publication, Uses of Ionizing Radiation for Tangible Cultural Heritage Conservation, the IAEA is currently preparing a new publication on Standard Operating Characteristics, to be released in 2022.
“By bringing together the skills and knowledge of technical experts from various nuclear fields, from nuclear imaging to radiation chemists and isotope analysts, the IAEA is helping countries on how nuclear techniques can be used to preserve art and objects of historical and cultural significance – a prime example of the peaceful use of atoms, ”said Tomo Furusawa, IAEA program management manager and co-organizer of the event in Grenoble .
Interest in the preservation of cultural heritage by nuclear techniques continues to grow. The IAEA International Conference on Radiation Science and Technology Applications (ICARST-2022), which will be held from August 22 to 26, 2022, will also feature dedicated sessions.