How can fracture mechanics and failure analysis assist in solving mysteries of ancient metal artifacts?

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Metals and their alloys were used by ancient civilizations based on their appearance and properties. During antiquity, the production process of metal artifacts frequently caused strain hardening, cracking, and loss of strength. In addition, devastating failure has often occurred after long burial periods, resulting from residual stresses and continuous corrosion attack. Therefore, the present study aims to examine how a fracture mechanics approach, integrated with failure analysis tools, may assist archeologists in gaining additional information concerning ancient metal objects. For this purpose, a literature survey of post-mortem studies of the RMS Titanic ship’s failure is presented, followed by a review of various archeological and historical studies of metal objects and structures made of silver, lead, copper, iron, and their alloys. Lastly, based on the current literature review, a methodology is proposed for analyzing ancient metal artifacts. This approach may assist archeologists in gaining a better understanding of the manufacturing techniques of ancient metal objects, their original shape and dimensions, the cause of failure, and state of preservation and conservation. Moreover, the use of such an approach may be valuable for future conservation and restoration of such archeological metal artifacts.

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The author is grateful to Barbara Doron for the English editing.

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Ashkenazi, D. How can fracture mechanics and failure analysis assist in solving mysteries of ancient metal artifacts?. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 34 (2020) doi:10.1007/s12520-019-00970-w

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  • Archeology
  • Crack propagation
  • Embrittlement
  • Failure analysis
  • Fracture mechanics
  • Ancient metals