[ASC-media] Taking the bull out of the china shop: technology detects antique fraud

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Mon Aug 14 01:10:07 CEST 2006

Embargo Monday 14 August 10 am 

Research by a Perth forensic scientist is helping to stem the flood of
forgeries entering the international antiques market. 

A Perth forensic scientist is employing lasers to help trace pottery
back to the kiln site of its production, thus exposing ceramic
forgeries, a multi-million dollar criminal business.

Emma Bartle from the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of
Western Australia has developed a scientific method to authenticate
porcelain, based on a technique known as elemental fingerprinting
originally used to establish where gold came from. It employs lasers to
vaporise a minute amount of material, which can then be analysed for the
elements it contains, and how much of each is present. The process
causes no visual damage to the ceramics.

"Over the past decade a multi-million dollar industry has grown up in
South-East Asia, Cambodia and Laos to forge Chinese Ming and Japanese
Imari porcelain," Bartle says. "These modern fakes are so detailed and
sophisticated that gone are the days whereby trained experts can
authenticate pieces using visual examination alone.

"By analysing the porcelains' chemical composition we can establish the
geographical origins of an artefact and trace it back to the kiln site
of its production in China or Japan. Each site has a different
combination of trace elements, such as strontium and lanthanum, which is
The accepted conventional method of authentication at present uses
emitted radiation to estimate the age of the porcelain; the idea being
the older the object the less likely it is to be a fake. 

However, the process causes visible damage to the ceramics, decreasing
both their cultural and monetary value. "Even worse, forgers have now
caught up with the science and are artificially aging their imitations",
Emma remarks. 

Elemental fingerprinting, pioneered by Prof John Watling for
establishing the provenance of gold, is now routinely used in forensic
applications. However, its adaptation and application to ceramics is

This unique research has sparked both local and international interest.
Already museums, auction houses and private collectors have come forward
to loan items from their collections for analysis. 

"We are working in collaboration with The Percival David Foundation of
Chinese Art (London), Bonhams Auction House (London) and the Kyushu
Ceramics Museum (Japan)."

"We have also analysed some of the ceramic artefacts recovered from
Dutch shipwrecks along the Western Australian coastline, which were
kindly loaned by the Western Australian Maritime Museum. Private
collectors from the US and UK have also sent porcelain shards from their
own collections for us to investigate," says Emma. 

Emma Bartle is one of 16 young scientists presenting their research to
the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national
program sponsored by the Federal and Victorian Governments. One of the
Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of British Council
Australia to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

Also issued today: 
*	How does an embryo find its way? Researchers in Melbourne have
discovered that a compound which attracts white blood cells to areas of
inflammation also plays an important role in attracting human embryos to
the womb. 

For further information or an interview contact: Emma Bartle on 0422 226
707 or ebartle at optusnet.com.au 

And Colin Campbell-Fraser from the University of Western Australia on
(08) 6488 2889 or 0419 947 718.

Media contact for Fresh Science: Joanna Gajewski 0429 388 822

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