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Provenance Determination of Oriental Porcelain Using Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS)

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The sale of fraudulent oriental ceramics constitutes a large proportion of the illegal artifact and antique trade and threatens to undermine the legitimate international market. The sophistication and skill of forgers has reached a level where, using traditional appraisal by eye and hand, even the most experienced specialist is often unable to distinguish between a genuine and fraudulent piece. In addition, current provenancing techniques such as energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) spectrometry and thermoluminescence (TL) dating can result in significant damage to the artifact itself. Laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), a relatively nondestructive analytical technique, has been used for the provenance determination of materials based on geographical origin. The technique requires the production of a laser crater, c. 100 m in diameter, which is essentially invisible to the naked eye. Debris from this crater is analyzed using ICP-MS, with the results forming the basis of the provenance establishment protocol. Chinese, Japanese, and English porcelain shards have been analyzed using this protocol and generic isotopic distribution patterns have been produced that enable the provenance establishment of porcelain artifacts to their country of production. Minor variations between elemental fingerprints of artifacts produced in the same country also indicate that it may be possible to further provenance oriental ceramics to a specific production region or kiln site.
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Keywords: Imari porcelain; Ming porcelain; chemometrics; elemental analysis; forensic chemistry; forensic science; laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry; oriental ceramics; provenance determination

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Centre for Forensic Science, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009.

Publication date: 2007-03-01

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