Applied Physics A

, Volume 94, Issue 4, pp 871–878 | Cite as

Dating study of two rock crystal carvings by surface microtopography and by ion beam analyses of hydrogen

  • T. Calligaro
  • Y. Coquinot
  • I. Reiche
  • J. Castaing
  • J. Salomon
  • G. Ferrand
  • Y. Le Fur


Two artefacts made of rock crystal (quartz) from the collection of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris, France, a skull approximately half of the size of a real cranium and a smaller anthropomorphic head, purportedly attributed to pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, were studied to assess their authenticity. The surface of the artefacts were examined by means of optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and were analyzed nondestructively by ERDA (Elastic Recoil Detection Analysis), an ion beam analytical method that can measure hydrogen concentration profiles in depth. Optical and SEM imaging of tool marks indicates that the skull has been cut from a rock crystal block using machine lapidary techniques unavailable to pre-Columbian artisans, whereas the anthropomorphic head has more likely been carved and polished with manual techniques comparable to ancient ones. Hydrogen depth profiles in the first micron below the surface of the artefacts have been measured by ERDA with a 3-MeV He beam in a controlled helium atmosphere. Recently the progressive penetration of water at the surface of a quartz sample exposed to the natural environment has been proposed as a dating method (labeled quartz hydration dating or QHD) applicable to archaeological artefacts made of this material. The shallower penetration of H clearly indicates that the rock crystal skull was manufactured more recently than the reference quartz sample cut in 1740. As for the anthropomorphic head, the deep penetration profiles indicate an older artefact. Thus the converging micro-topographical examinations and hydrogen profiles of the samples surfaces indicate that the skull is probably not a pre-Columbian artefact but has been carved in the 18th or 19th century. The anthropomorphic head, on the other hand, could have been carved in the pre-Columbian period. In addition, the ERDA method carried out with an external beam presented here provides a new and simple approach for the nondestructive authentication of quartz-based archaeological artefacts by QHD.


61.72.Ww 81.05.Je 81.70.Jb 82.80.Yc 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    J. Walsh, Legends of the crystal skulls. Archaeology 61(3), 36–40 (2008) Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    M. Sax, J.M. Walsh, I.C. Freestone, A.H. Rankin, N.D. Meeks, The origin of two purportedly pre-Columbian Mexican crystal skulls. J. Archaeol. Sci. 35, 2751–2760 (2008) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    M.C. Serra, Cristales y obsidiana prehispánicos. Siglo XXI De Mexico Editores (1994) Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A. Langenscheidt, Los abrasivos en Mesoamérica. Arqueol. Mex. XIV 82, 55–60 (2006) Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    P. Riviale, Eugène Boban ou les aventures d’un antiquaire au pays des Americanistes. J. Soc. Am. 87, 351–362 (2001) Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    J. Walsh, Crystal skulls and other problems: or, “don’t look it in the eye”, in Exhibiting Dilemmas: Issues of Representation at the Smithsonian, ed. by A. Henderson, A.L. Kaeppler (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 1997) Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Reliquary cross with a pierced crystal skull at its base. Private ownership of Mrs. Norma Redo, Mexico. Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    M. Sax, N.D. Meeks, Methods of engraving Mesopotamian quartz cylinders seals. Archaeometry 37, 25–36 (1995) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    S.A. Stil, 13858 Aix-en-Provence, France.
  10. 10.
    T. Laursen, W.A. Lanford, Hydration of obsidian. Nature 276, 153 (1978) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    P. Walter, M. Menu, J.-C. Dran, Dating of archaeological flints by fluorine depth profiling: new insights into the mechanism of fluorine uptake. Nucl. Instrum. Methods B 64, 494 (1992) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    J.E. Ericson, Anthropology papers, vol. 23 (1982), p. 299 Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Y. Adda, J. Philibert, La Diffusion dans les Solides (Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1966) Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    O. Dersch, Wasseraufnahme von Quartz: Grundlage für eine Methode zur Datierung archäologischer Quartzartefakte (Water uptake by Quartz: Basis of a method for dating of archaeological quartz artefacts). Doctoral dissertation, J.W. Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, 2001 Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    O. Dersch, F. Rauch, Water uptake of quartz investigated by means of ion-beam analysis. Fresenius J. Anal. Chem. 365, 114 (1999) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    J. Crank, The Mathematics of Diffusion, 2nd edn. (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1975) Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    J.E. Ericson, O. Dersch, F. Rauch, Quartz hydration dating. J. Archaeol. Sci. 31, 883 (2004) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    W.A. Lanford, Analysis for hydrogen by nuclear reaction and energy recoil detection. Nucl. Instrum. Methods B 66, 65 (1992) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Y. Serruys, J. Tirira, P. Trocellier, Forward Recoil Spectrometry: Applications to Hydrogen Determination in Solids (Springer, Berlin, 1996) Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    J.C. Dran, J. Salomon, T. Calligaro, P. Walter, Ion beam analysis of art works: 14 years of use in the Louvre. Nucl. Instrum. Methods B 219–220, 7–15 (2004) CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    T. Calligaro, J. Castaing, J.-C. Dran, B. Moignard, J.-C. Pivin, G.V.R. Prasad, J. Salomon, P. Walter, ERDA with an external helium ion micro-beam, advantages and potential applications. Nucl. Instrum. Methods B 181, 180 (2001) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    M. Mayer, SIMNRA, a simulation program for the analysis of NRA, RBS and ERDA, in Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on the Application of Accelerators in Research and Industry, ed. by J.L. Duggan, I.L. Morgan. American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings, vol. 475 (1999), p. 541.
  23. 23.
    J.E.E. Baglin, A.J. Kellock, M.A. Crocket, A.H. Shih, Absolute cross section for hydrogen forward scattering. Nucl. Instrum. Methods B 64, 469–474 (1992) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    J.F. Ziegler et al., Profiling hydrogen in materials using ion beams. Nucl. Instrum. Methods 149, 19–39 (1978) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    I. Reiche, J. Castaing, T. Calligaro, J. Salomon, M. Aucouturier, U. Reinholz, H.-P. Weise, Analyses of hydrogen in quartz and in sapphire using depth profiling by ERDA at atmospheric pressure: Comparison with resonant NRA and SIMS. Nucl. Instrum. Methods B 249, 608 (2006) CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Statistica 7.0, StatSoft, Inc., Tulsa, OK, USA, 2007.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. Calligaro
    • 1
  • Y. Coquinot
    • 1
  • I. Reiche
    • 1
  • J. Castaing
    • 1
  • J. Salomon
    • 1
  • G. Ferrand
    • 2
  • Y. Le Fur
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France—C2RMF, CNRS UMR171Palais du LouvreParisFrance
  2. 2.Ecole nationale supérieure des mines de ParisParisFrance
  3. 3.Musée du quai BranlyParisFrance

Personalised recommendations