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Study of archaeological iron objects by PGAA, Mössbauer spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction


Archaeological iron objects often corrode rapidly after their excavation, even though they have survived long times of burial in the ground. Chlorine that accumulates during burial is thought to play a major role in this destructive post-excavation corrosion. It is therefore important for the conservation of such objects to determine the chlorine content in a non-destructive manner and, if necessary, to remove the chlorine from the artefacts by appropriate methods. Such methods are leaching in alkaline solutions or heating in a reducing atmosphere at temperatures up to 800 C. We have studied the efficiency of the heating method using prompt gamma activation analysis (PGAA) for monitoring the Cl content and Mössbauer spectroscopy at room temperature (RT) and 4.2 K as well as X-ray diffraction to study the mineralogical transformations of the rust layers. The heat treatments were performed a N2/H2 (90/10) mixture at temperatures up to 750 C. As test specimens sections of iron rods from the Celtic oppidum of Manching (Bavaria) were used. The initial Cl contents of the pieces varied in the range of several hundred ppm, referring to the iron mass. Annealing for 24 h at 350, 550 and 750 C was found to reduce the Cl contents of the specimens, to about 70, 30 and 15 % of the original values, respectively. The rust consists mainly of goethite with admixtures of magnetite, lepidocrocite and akaganeite, which is thought to be a major carrier of chlorine, probably together with iron chlorides. Much of the goethite is so fine-grained that it does not split magnetically at RT. Annealing converts the rust mainly to maghemite at 350 C, to magnetite at 550 C and to wüstite plus magnetite and metallic iron at 750 C. Pure akaganeite behaves in nearly the same manner.

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Correspondence to F. E. Wagner.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Proceedings of the International Conference on the Applications of the Mössbauer Effect (ICAME 2015), Hamburg, Germany, 13–18 September 2015.

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Wagner, F.E., Gebhard, R., Häusler, W. et al. Study of archaeological iron objects by PGAA, Mössbauer spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction. Hyperfine Interact 237, 30 (2016).

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  • Mössbauer spectroscopy
  • PGAA
  • XRD
  • Archaeological iron
  • Corrosion
  • Chlorine
  • Akaganeite